Shugendo (a term relating to religions in Japan) (修験道)

Shugendo is a Japan-specific Konko-shukyo (a religion combining Buddhism, Shintoism and other religions) whose objective is to do ascetic practice while confining oneself in the mountains, in order to obtain various shirushi (evidence) which indicate that certain practice levels have been reached. The person who does shugendo practice is called a shugensha or yamabushi.


It is a Japan-specific religion combining various religions, such as Buddhism, Taoism, Onmyodo (the way of Yin and Yang, an occult divination system based on the Taoist theory of the five elements) with Kannabi (an old form of Shintoism) and Iwakura (a form of mountain worship) in which a life or divine spirit is considered to reside in everything. It is said that Shugendo was established in the Nara Period. It is said that EN no Gyoja (EN no Ozunu) was its founder.

It came to be widely practiced from around the Heian Period. This religion became strongly connected to Esoteric Buddhism that was brought to Japan in the early Heian Period, and in the era from the latter half of the Kamakura Period to the Period of the Northern and Southern Courts (in Japan), its unique position was established. Being strongly connected to Esoteric Buddhism, it is sometimes considered a sect of Buddhism.

The Edo bakufu established Shugendo Hatto (Shugendo Law) in 1613, making it a rule that Shugendo had to belong either to the Tozan school related to the Shingonshu sect or to the Honzan school related to the Tendaishu sect.

Following the Ordinance Distinguishing Shinto and Buddhism in 1868, a law banning Shugendo was introduced, prohibiting Shugendo practice. In addition, due to the Haibutsu-kishaku (a movement to abolish Buddhism), things related to Shugendo were destroyed.

Attempting to diminish their Buddhist characteristics in the Meiji Period and after, some Shugendo-related religious associations of lay believers came to belong to Sect Shinto. These Shinto sects were mainly Ontake-kyo, Fuso-Kyo, Jikko-Kyo, and Maruyama-Kyo, and some remnants from the period when Buddhism and Shintoism were syncretized, such as the chanting of mantras of Fudo-son and chanting of Hannya Shingyo (Heart Sutra), are still observed.

The systems of Shugendo teaching are largely classified into the Tozan school related to the Shingonshu sect and the Honzan school related to the Tendaishu sect. The Tozan school was founded by Shobo Rigen Daishi (a Shingon priest who lived in the early Heian Period) who established Sanbo-in at Daigo-ji Temple, and the Honzan school came to be formed after Zoyo at Onjo-ji Temple built Shogoin Temple and enshrined the Sansho Gongen (three deities) of Kumano there. The Shingonshu sect and the Tendaishu sect were closely linked to the nobility. However, because Shugendo affected the general public, the roles of Shugensha and yamabushi were important.

The major sites of worship are Kinpusen-ji Temple (of the main Shugen sect) on Mt. Yoshino, Nara Prefecture, Shogoin Temple (of the Honzan Shugen sect) in Sakyo Ward, Kyoto City, and Sanbo-in at Daigo-ji Temple (of the Daigo school of the Shingon sect) in Fushimi Ward, Kyoto City.

Furthermore, there exist groups related to Kokubu (literally, provincial mountain peaks) shugen in which sacred mountains in various areas are worshipped.

Gods of Shugendo

Shugendo is a religion in which Shintoism and Buddhism is syncretized, and both gods of Shintoism and Buddhism are enshrined. Visible objects for worship include Gongen (where gongen, a god or Buddha appearing in a temporary shape, is enshrined) and Oji (a place to conduct rituals en route to pilgrimage).

In the Kumano set of beliefs, Sansho (three-place) Gongen, Gosho (five-place) Oji, and Yonsho (four-place) Miyano-saishin (an enshrined deity of a miya, or royal person) occupy important positions, and the Kujuku (ninety-nine) Oji which stem from here are famous. Being related to yamabushi, divinities connected to mountains exist in some of these places.

The following places are widely known:

Zao Gongen (the principal image of the Kimpusen Zaodo, and the highest object of worship in Shugendo)
Nyakuichioji (the first Oji of the Gosho Oji in Kumano)
Kujuku Oji (a series of shrines which were established between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries by the Kumano Shugen priests)
Zenki Goki (Oni demon in front and at the back)
Hitokoto nushi (an oracle-god who says a good thing or a bad thing clearly in a single word, and is deified as the deity of the Hitokotonushi Shrine of Gose City in Nara Prefecture.)

[Original Japanese]