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Return of the Sacred

Another of the presentation reports in the Journal of Shintō Studies was entitled “The Transformation of the Tateyama Cult and the Resacralization of Cultural Heritage”, by Saeki Yoshifumi. Tateyama is a sacred mountain in Toyama Prefecture, and is one of the most important such mountains in Japan. Before the separation of Shinto and Buddhism at the Meiji Revolution, it was an important centre of syncretic mountain religion, and there were several villages that were dominated by families who made their livings by hosting pilgrims who had come to the mountain. After the Meiji Revolution it went into decline. The separation of Shinto and Buddhism doubtless had an influence, but the religious aspects were mostly taken over, and reinterpreted as Shinto, by the jinja that had always been part of the practices (Oyama Jinja). Thus, I suspect that the main factor was the massive changes in society and lifestyle.

The religious practices at Tateyama have been well studied, according to the article, and Mr Saeki (he was still a graduate student when he gave the presentation, although he may have a doctorate by now) is studying how the local residents relate to them today. The presentation report is clearly abbreviated, and I hope he writes a longer article for a later issue of the journal at some point in the future. Two points were given with enough detail to pick up in this blog post.

First, one of the villages that housed pilgrims had 24 households that served as hosts and guides, and they formed an Inari Kō, a group of people who paid particular reverence to Inari, to pray for the prosperity of the village. It should be noted, incidentally, that Inari is not one of the kami of Oyama Jinja, nor, as far as I can tell from superficial investigation, one of the kami associated with Tateyama. Inari is, however, associated with business prosperity. Originally, all 24 households were in the kō, but, although it still exists, only four households are still active participants. However, those participants do feel that it is their duty, as members of the host families, to pass on the customs of Tateyama to future generations, and people from other families who have moved out of the area have contacted them to encourage them to keep the kō going. This still seems to be of religious importance.

The second point concerns the Tateyama Mandala (scroll down; it’s the image in the third row of images). This is a set of pictures of the area around the sacred mountains, drawn in a consistent style, that brings out the religious significance of various locations. This is part of an important tradition in Japan of Miya (or Sankei) Mandala, which look like stylised landscape paintings of the jinja and its area, and absolutely nothing like a classic Buddhist Mandala. (I am not even sure how far back the “Mandala” name goes.) Some members of the village families are looking to revive the practice of using the Tateyama Mandala to explain the religious significance of the area. They are passionate about the practice, and see its appeal as part of a tourism story, but are opposed to commercial uses of the image, such as on wrapping paper, or on the sides of buses, as advertising. That is, the sacred character of the image is important to them, and they want to preserve that character even as the image is recognised as cultural heritage and a tourism resource.

The report mentions a number of other points in passing, such as the fact that Oyama Jinja has tapped into several contemporary trends, such as the popularity of goshuin, but does not go into detail. That is why I would like to see a longer article in the future.

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1 thought on “Return of the Sacred”

  1. Pingback: Mountains in Mahoroba – Mimusubi

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