Komuso (虚無僧)

Komuso were monks of the Fuke sect of Zen Buddhism who did not shave their heads in the traditional monk fashion and, co-existed as monks in the day to day lay world.

The Fuke sect originated from Fuke of China (Tung), in Japan it started when monk of Rinzai Sect of Buddhism, Kakushin SHINCHI went to China and received favor from San CHO, Buddhist law of the Fuke sect of 竹管吹簫, he took four Kyoshi (Buddhist layman) San CHO disciples such as 'Hofuku,' and then returned to Japan in 1254 and established Fukean of Kokoku-ji Temple which belonged to Yura KI, and let them live in the temple.

In the old days they were often called "Komoso," the name originating from monks wearing Komo around their hip while they meditate and sleep.'

A Komuso was considered to be an itinerant priest who 'traveled around the provinces while collecting alms by playing the Shakuhachi (bamboo flute) and, did not have a shaved head.'
Also, it was said 'in many cases they wore a short sleeved Kesa (shawl-like robe worn by Japanese monks) over the shoulders, wore a Fukaamigasa (open weave basket-like hat that obscured the face) and bore a sword.'

Initially Komuso wore an ordinary bamboo hat and were draped in a white robe.
However, with the arrival of the Edo period, but they were defined by the Tokugawa shogunate as follows:

When soliciting alms, Komuso monks wore plain indigo blue or grey clothing which was secured by a men's obi (sash) tied in the front and a bag containing a spare Shakuhachi (bamboo flute) was worn at the hip. A bag was worn around the neck, Kesa draped over the shoulders while, a Fukaamigasa that was also called a 'tengai' was worn on the head. Thick woven reed sandals were worn on the feet and a Shakuhachi was held in the hands.

On traveling they were to wear navy blue cotton clothes, kyahan (foot cover), kogake (foot guards) and straw sandals.
By the way, the box called 'Meian' (bright and dark), which is often seen in the period drama on TV and seemed like a special Buddhist word, actually does not have any special meaning and it can just mean 'I am from Myoan-ji Temple.'
But this did not exist in the Edo period.

According to a 1614 feudal law (okitegaki) pertaining to Komuso itinerant priests that was approved and advocated by Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, the Komuso were permitted to travel around Japan as part of their sect's martial training and to gain knowledge. Later on it came to light that the document was a forgery. If samurai who committed crimes became monks of the Fuke sect of Buddhism, they escaped punishment and were protected. As a result, from the middle of the Edo period onwards, gangs of louts living the high-life whilst posing as Komuso became rampant so, the shogunate placed restrictions on the Komuso.

In 1871, the Department of State of the Meiji administration issued ordinances which abolished the Fuke Sect which had been a close cohort of the Shogunate. The Komuso lost their right to be priests and, they were incorporated into family registers.

Komuso pilgrimages were revived in 1888 with the establishment of the Meian Association and Meian-ji Temple which was formerly Zennein, a sub-temple of Tofuku-ji Temple in Kyoto.

[Original Japanese]