Kumano Sanzan Kengyo (the Overseer of the Three Kumano Shrines) (熊野三山検校)

Kumano Sanzan Kengyo was a post to govern Kumano Sanzan (three major shrines, Kumano-Hongu-Taisha, Kumano-Hayatama-Taisha and Kumano-Nachi-Taisha) and was established above Kumano betto (the title of an official who administered the shrines at Kumano) at the beginning of the the 11th century.


In 1090, Emperor Shirakawa had visited Kumano and observed the place bustling with pilgrimages to Kumano Sanzan; he felt that Kumano Sanzan which had been rather an insignificant local reizan (sacred mountain) needed to be managed systematically. Thus, he appointed Zoyo who acted as a sendatsu (a guide) and was Chori (chief priest) of Onjo-ji Temple to the new post, Kumano Sanzan Kengyo, and put it above the Kumano betto, the post for the local land ruler. At the same time, Kumano Sanzan became a part of the central Sogo (Office of Monastic Affairs) system since Chokai, Kumano betto, was appointed to hokkyo (the rank of a priest).

However, Kumano betto and supporting staffs were the ones who ran the governing affairs such as the expected temple affairs as well as the territory management, the security keeping, and the management of the Shinto priests, the priests, and yamabushi (mountain priests). On the other hand, the main role of Kumano Sanzan Kengyo was acting as a guide when Daijo Tenno (the retired Emperor) paid visit to Kumano Sanzan. Therefore, characteristically the position emphasized honor and authority rather than the real power; however, as Kumano betto family's power had declined, Kumano Sanzan Kengyo came to seize the power in Kumano after the middle of the 14th century.


Of all Kumano Sanzan Kengyo, from Zoyo, the founder, to Kakujitsu, the 6th generation, were known to be ascetic Buddhist monks who practiced asceticism in Mt. Omine, Mt. Katsuragi, and Kumano and were appointed to Mitsui Chori, Chori of Onjo-ji Temple. Cyogen, the 7th-generation Kumano Sanzan Kengyo after these predecessors, was a ascetic Buddhist monk; however, he not only had no association with Enjo-ji Temple, but also was from the Shingon Sect line's Ninna-ji Temple. Perhaps because of these reasons, he was appointed to Kumano Sanzan Kengyo after he had held a post as Nachi-san Mountain Kengyo. Maybe because Cyogen had strong influence on Kumano Sanzan unlike other Sanzan Kengyo, his predecessors, it is written in the entry on July 5, 1216, of FUJIWARA no Yorisuke's journal of the shrine visits that Kumano betto Shingu betto family and Tanabe betto family's Kaijitsu and Yorisuke had a conversation rather being critical of Cyogen.

Also, during Kakusan's, the 4th-generation Kumano Sanzan Kengyo's, tenure, Emperor Goshirakawa called upon the gods of Imakumanosha Shrine (新熊野社aka '今熊野社') in Kyoto to Hoju-ji Temple's (Kyoto City) premise in 1160 and appointed Kakusan to Imakumano Shrine (literally "New Kumano Shrine" located in Kyoto City) Kengyo in 1173. After Jikkei, the 5th generation Sanzan Kengyo, was appointed to the 4th generation Imakumano Shrine Kengyo, Imakumano Shrine Kengyo was decided to be the concurrent job of Sanzan Kengyo; Imakumano Shrine became a foothold of Sanzan Kengyo and Kumano powers in Kyoto.

The person named Jogo was appointed to betto after the Jokyu War in which Kumano Sanzan fought on the retired Emperor's side against Kamakura bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) under the guidance of the betto's family. However, Jogo was also Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine's betto and it is assumed that Kamakura bakufu directly governed Kumano. From Ryoson, the 9th-generation Sanzan Kengyo, the post was appointed to an ascetic Buddhist monk in successive generations; however, the authority of the post was stil just the formality.

However, after the Jokyu War, Kumano betto family's power had declined and they lost control over the competing powers in the Kumano region. Therefore, Kumano Sanzan's governing organization began to undergo major changes in the middle of 14th century and Sanzan Kengyo attempted to govern Kumano directly. There was an early attempt to seize the power in Kumano by Sanzan Kengyo; for example, Sanzan Kengyo issued two monjo (written material) under the name of Dosho, the 15th generatlion Sanzan Kengyo, to Nachi-san Mountain's monks in managerial positions asking after the territory in the middle of 15th century. Also, from approximately the time of Cloistered Imperial Prince Gakujo, the 16th generation Sanzan Kengyo, or Doi, the 20th generation Sanzan Kengyo onward, Sanzan Kengyo became Jyudaisyoku, the position passed down to the members of Shogoin monzeki (a temple in which resided a member of nobility or imperial family), with the help of the close tie to Ashikaga Shogun Family. Takauji ASHIKAGA granted Sanzan Kengyo's wish and gave a practical support by newly creating a post, Kumano Sanzan Bugyo (magistrate), to manage practical business in a local land. Takauji (ASHIKAGA) restored Zenrin-ji Temple's (Kyoto City) Kumano Nyakuoji-sha Shrine and newly constructed Jyojyoin Temple's as its bettojiin (a temple attached to a shrine). Takauji not only appointed Jyojyoin Temple's betto Ryokai to Sanzan Kengyo but also supported Jyojyoin Temple financially by donating private estates. Afterward, the successive generations of Ashikaga Shogun cordially protected Jyojyoin Temple's territory and interests and after Shogoin Temple decided Sanzan Kengyo to be Jyudaisyoku (the position passed down to the members of Shogoin monzeki), Kumano Sanzan Bugyo not only became Jyudaisyoku but also gain the position of the highest rank Inge (a family to support services of the temple).

In addition, the changes in the conditions surrounding private mountain estates in Kumano which took place during the time from the Muromachi Period to the Sengoku period (period of warring states) in Japan helped Kumano Sanzan Kengyo and Sanzan Bugyo which was placed under Kumano Sanzan Kengyo to increase the power over Kumano Sanzan. During this time, a local lord came to rule the area; as a result, the nengu (land tax) paid to Kumano were only a part of rice tax for the religious festivals and sometimes that fell behind. The problem had been resolved with the Kumano's initiative; however, many clans needed help of Shugo (provincial constable) or a local ruling family as a mediator. Kumano Sanzan Kengyo and Sanzan Bugyo often relayed a mediator's messages to the bakufu; as a result, their influence had increased in Kumano. In this way, Kumano Sanzan Kengyo which was only the honor post in the beginning had expanded the authority and real power with the support of Ashikaga Shogun Family's patronage as Kumano betto family's power had declined in the middle of the 14th century.

Afterwards, Shogoin Temple and Nyakuoji-sha Shrine were burnt down by an army fire in the Onin War; however, Kumano Sanzan Kengyo's post itself continued to exist as seen in the ryoji (orders issued by princes, empresses, etc.) issued in 1545 and 1564. Also, Nobunaga ODA donated 30 koku (8.34 cubic meters) of the Saiindai Palace in the Yamashiro Province in 1575; likewise, Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI donated 75 koku of the Iwakuradai Palace in the Yamashiro Province in 1585 and 8 to 8 syo belonged of the Kissho-in Temple in the Yamashiro Province in 1591. After the Edo period had started, Hase and Kissho-in Temple which were donated by Hideyoshi were kept as Shuinchi (temple's territory authorized by the Edo shorgunate) and kokuinchi (shrine's and temple's territory authorized by the Daimyo). Kumano Sanzan Kengyo continued to exist until 1868; however, when Imperial Prince Miyairido Nobuhito, the last Kengyo, returned to secular life, established Kitashirakawanomiya Palace, and came to be known as Imperial Prince Kitashirakawanomiya Satonari in 1870, the post was abolished.

[Original Japanese]