Fudaraku-tokai (Crossing the sea to fudaraku [or Potalaka; holy sites associated with Kannon, Deity (補陀落渡海)

Fudaraku-tokai is a form of the ascetic practice of sacrifice performed in medieval Japan.


This practice was performed basically in the way that practitioners got on the wooden boat called Tokai-bune set afloat on the water near the southward beach and set sail. Then an escort boat towed it out to sea, cut the rope and let it go. In some cases 108 pieces of stone were tied to the practitioner's body to deter him from coming back alive. However, in the Edo period the practice was changed into the form of carrying a dead body into the Tokai-bune to be buried at sea (the case with a chief priest of Darakusan-ji Temple is known).

The most famous example of fudaraku-tokai was the practice in Nachikatsura-cho, Ki Province (Wakayama Prefecture), which is said to have been performed 20 times from 868 to 1722 according to "Kumano Nendaiki (the Chronicle of Kumano)." In addition to this, there are written records of the practices of fudaraku-tokai having been performed in Ashizuri-misaki Cape, Muroto-misaki Cape, Hitachinaka City and so on.

The practitioners of tokai in Kumano Nachi were mainly chief priests of Fudarakusan-ji Temple in principle, but it is recorded in an entry dated May 27, 1233 of "Azuma Kagami" (The Mirror of the East) that an ex-samurai named Rokuroyukihide SHIMOKAWABE took the second name of 智定房 and tried tokai as a special case.

Luis FROIS also referred to fudaraku-tokai in his book.

Historical materials on tokai-bune being scarce, tokai-bune rebuilt at Fudarakusan-ji Temple is a Japanese-style fishing boat with a hip-and-gable-roofed box on it and four Torii (shrine gate) put up around the box. In other cases gate-like structures are used instead of Torii, and those are called 'Hosshinmon gate,' 'Shugyomon gate,' 'Bodaimon gate,' and 'Nehanmon gate' respectively.

Practitioners get in the box on the boat, which is not designed for the crew members to move in and out. That is, once the practitioners get in the box on Tokai-bune, they are not supposed to get out of it until they die.

Tokai-bune doesn't carry ro, oars or sails, so it basically just drifts away with the sea current after casting off and separated off the escort boat.

Thought background

In Buddhist beliefs, like Amida jodo(the Pure Land) in the west, jodo also exists in the south and it was called fudaraku 補陀落 (it is also written as 補陀洛, 普陀落 or 普陀洛). The original word for it is 'Potalaka' in Sanskrit. According to Kegon-kyo (the Flower Garland Sutra), Fudaraku is the Pure Land of Kanjizai Bosatsu (Kannon Bodhisattva).

Kumano region in Nanki, where tokai frequently took place, was a site of piled-up religions. In ancient times a sentence 'Sukunahikona no Mikoto went over to Misaki in Kumano and at last reached Tokoyo no kuni (parallel universe beyond the sea)' in the volumes of divine age of "Chronicles of Japan" shows that there is a bridge between this and the next world. Apparently associated with the sea, 'Tokoyo no kuni' was said to be the next world somewhere on the sea. Besides, being abundant in deep mountains, Kumano, in which a mountain religion has been developed, has been a dojo of Shugendo (Japanese ascetic and shamanistic practice in mountainous sites) of Kumano Gongen Deity, which is a syncretized religion of Shinto with Buddhism (in this case, above-mentioned Pure Land Buddhism). Then, in the Heian Period in Japan, Jodo sect's thought of 'Ojo' epitomized by its cries, 'abhorrence of (living in) this impure world' and 'seeking rebirth in the Pure Land' became popular and the Utopia beyond the sea was syncretized with the Pure Land.

[Original Japanese]