Kannabi (also called kamunabi or kaminabi) refers to a place that holds numerous spirit replacements or material objects in which divine spirits reside; or one form of divine replacement in which the natural environment is an object of worship that contains the spirit of a deity.
Kannabi refers to a sacred area in mountains or forests where a deity dwells or hides. Kannabi includes forests, sacred trees, sacred shrine forests, and mountains (holy Mt. Fuji) that are considered himorogi (a temporarily erected sacred space or "altar" used as a locus of worship) or iwakura (dwelling place of a god, usually in reference to a large rock). Kannabi also includes natural objects such as rocks (Meotoiwa) and waterfalls (Nachi no Taki) with distinctive characters where a deity is believed to reside. Therefore, kannabi is also the general term for himorogi and iwakura.
The object of worship in Shrine Shinto today is yashiro, and it is not called kannabi. Shrine Shinto is said to originate in a primitive religion that arose spontaneously in Japan and is derived from the Ancient Shinto that involved worship of nature and the dead, and elements of both sources still remain today. Although many shrines today display Shimenawa (a sacred rice-straw rope) as the object of worship, there are also sacred trees, rocks, forests, or even lakes and waterfalls within or outside the same shrines as the object of worship. It means that nature exists as the object of worship in addition to the main enshrined deity. Some old shrines have no building, main hall or hall of worship; they enshrine the natural kannabi as the enshrined deities.
The meaning of kannabi
As part of Shinto as animism, kannabi is an embodiment of appreciation, awe and respect for nature. In addition, kannabi represents a sacred area where a deity resides, or a border between Tokoyo (the eternal world of the dead) and Utsushiyo (this mortal world). In some cases, kannabi means the barrier to restrict coming and going between Tokoyo and Utsushiyo, or it represents a tabooed land.
In terms of environmental preservation, kannabi is also notable as a place that preserves unspoiled nature. Kannabi is valuable as Satoyama (farming landscape near the hills and mountains in Japan) or part of satoyama bunka (traditional village culture); in fact, soil bacteria that are unique to such places have been found and used for development of new drugs, and environmental researchers from all over the world visit these places for their studies.
Examples of usage of the term "Kannabi"
There are several kanji combinations for kannabi, including 神名備, 神南備, 神名火, and 甘南備.
One theory states that the term "kannabi" is derived from "kannarabi"(神並び) meaning a deity is enshrined; another states that "nabi" means to hide, therefore kannabi means a place where a deity is hiding.
Mt. Kannabi in Izumo no kuni fudoki (the topography of Izumo Province)
In the topography of Izumo Province, four mountains called "kannabi" are described. Different combinations of kanji are used for "kannabi."
Mt. Kannabi (神名樋野) in Ou County - Presumed to be Mt. Chausu-yama in Matsue City.
Mt. Kannabi (神名火山) in Aika County - It is generally believed to be Mt. Asahi in Matsue City.
Mt. Kannabi (神名樋山) in Tatenui County - Presumed to be Mt. Obunesan in Izumo City.
Mt. Kannabi (神名火山) in Izumo County - Presumed to be Mt. Bukkyozan in Hikawa Town.