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Mountains in Mahoroba

Mahoroba is an annual magazine produced by the Edification Center of Jinja Honchō. This is the bit I work for, but as the magazine is in Japanese and aimed at Japanese people, I have nothing to do with it — at least so far. This year’s issue does include links to the English “how to visit a jinja” videos that I prepared the scripts for, but that’s as strong as my connection gets.

I want to write about this year’s issue because it focused on mountain spirituality, with a couple of articles on the topic, and a double-page spread of recommended mountains. Japan has a long tradition of venerating mountains as kami, and that is, apparently, common throughout the world. However, according to the article, Japan is the only country with an established practice of venerating the mountain kami by climbing them. (The practice seems to have developed under Buddhist influence, but it is not a Buddhist practice, because Buddhism does not, broadly speaking, venerate mountains. I haven’t studied this in detail, but it seems that Buddhist ascetics went up the mountains to isolate themselves, and then other people followed them to venerate the mountain, after the monks had shown that you could do that without being struck down.)

One of the articles in Mahoroba is a general overview, pointing out that mountaineering for fun is a western import dating from the late nineteenth century, and encouraging a return to traditional Japanese forms as well. The other was about an attempt to visit three jinja associated with mountains in Gunma Prefecture, and for scheduling reasons the author visited in early February. He had to abandon his attempt to visit one of the mountains because the road was iced over, and the wind was whipping up the fallen snow to block all visibility. That is one of the problems with venerating mountains… On the bright side, the scenery is often spectacular.

The double page of recommendations was of mountains chosen as good places to enjoy both mountain climbing and the culture of mountain veneration, and not necessarily the “top” sacred mountains in Japan. The list does include Mt Fuji, because it could hardly not, but it doesn’t include Tateyama, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. There is also a good spread across the country, from southern Kyushu to northern Hokkaido. That last inclusion is interesting, because it was basically outside the Shinto cultural sphere until the late nineteenth century. The brief note says that a male and female kami are venerated there as a pair, but I wonder about the history. The other suggestions include Takachiho in Kyushu, where Ninigi-no-Mikoto is said to have descended from the heavens, and Mt Tsukuba near Tokyo, recorded in the eighth century Hitachi-no-Kuni Fudoki as the home of more hospitable kami than Mt Fuji.

The page also includes a note about the precautions you should take when setting off to climb a mountain, even for religious reasons.

It is interesting to see the emphasis on this aspect of Shinto, because, while it was historically very important, it has next to no connection with the nationalist aspects that were emphasised in the pre-war period, and that are still important to the Shinto establishment today. And there is no mention of Jingū! True, it is not on a mountain, which would have made it a bit artificial to include it, but that is still a bit unusual for a Jinja Honchō publication. Even the page on kamidana does not mention Jingū Taima, although there are little pictures of them in the illustrations of modern-style arrangements. The emphasis of the whole magazine is on the veneration of nature, and while that is part of Shinto, it is not that part that Jinja Honchō normally emphasises.

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