Yamabushi hermits, the hard core ancient climbers and Japanese culture

photo Dewa Sanzan Shrine

1.What is Yamabushi : Japanese Marlin

2.The chants Norito to celebrating the beauty of mountains and all the living beings

3.Living in the islands of natural abundance and disasters

On 2017 September, I finished the 4 days program in the Dewa Sanzan Shrine which is famous for its Yamabushi training. The program includes hiking 10 km (6.2 miles) in mountains to prove worship, bathing in cold water twice a day, meditating, chanting.
Eh, chanting on this program was that we were waken up twice midnight and chanted the Norito : ritual incantations with almost sleeping brains, with a full of smoke in closed room made us to difficult even to breath. Of course chanting under the sacred waterfall.
The program is modified for woman which is called Miko (shirine maiden).
To join the program is not only 10 years dream of mine but also good way for me to find the characteristic view of thinking that how Japanese people see the life.
Because the training is said ‘living death’.
The white clothes we wore were same as the clothes which dead people were worn on their funeral.
The program seems good example of how Japanese society relates with nature.

1.What is Yamabushi : Japanese Marlin 

Yamabushi are as the wikipedia say, Japanese Marlin. I agree this great comparison.

Yamabushi (山伏) (one who prostrates himself on the mountain) are Japanese mountain ascetic hermitsAccording to a traditional Japanese mysticism, Yamabushi are believed to be endowed with supernatural powers. They follow the Shugendō doctrine, an integration of mainly esoteric Buddhism, …. Taoism, and elements of Shinto.

This path may or may not have had a founder, as the myths surrounding En no Gyōja are numerous and complex; he is quite similar to a Japanese Merlin in this way.

There are some training programs which is opened to the normal people or tourists.

In the Dewa Sanzan Shrine, the most famous open program is 7 days long Aki no Mine Iri (Mountain training in Autumn).
Traditionally the area was only for men after Edo period, then the Dewa Sanzan Shrine started the program for women in 1993 which was surprising for society.

I can find some points Yamabushi and Sennichi Kaiho Gyo from Tendai Buddhism have same ;

  • both of them are quest for enlightenment and devotion for other living beings
  • traditional white attire means burial clothes
  • most important part of the practice is ‘walking maditation’ in mountains.


2.The chants Norito to celebrating the beauty of mountains and all the living beings

At the beggining part of this video the grandma sings the chant.
“Ayani ayani kusushiku touto Yudono no yama no kami no mimae o orogamimatsuru”.

This is the basic part of the chant Norito we recited thousands of times.
It means “the beautiful and precious Yudono mountain’s god we worship”.

There are many kinds of those chants deffer from each and every events… before meals, during sacred bathing in cold water (twice a day), in front of shirines, sacred falls or mountains, stones…

For me the core idea of many chants seems to celebrating the beauty and abundance of mountains.
So the mountains allow the people to share its fruits with all the living beings and not to harm their lives.  For Yamabushi people, to get super power from mountains.


3.Living in the islands of abundance and natural disasters

As same as other pre-modern cultures, people live on the natural resources which produces abundance and also occur natural disasters.
We can find a bunch of cultures seeing the nature as the mother and at the same time the scary goddess of underworld.

For me, Japanese people still hold those animistic view in them though they live in such a metropolis Tokyo with SF like toilets.
That’s why many people pick the garbages up in sidewalks and try to keep the town clean.

Japanese seriousness for toilets has same roots to keep the environment clean and also the 900-years tradition of using feces as organic fertilizer.
Goddess of food in Shinto Oogetsu/ Uke Mochi produced rice and soy from her night soil.

Every year, earthquakes, typhoons or eruptions damage people.
Average technology level of Japanese society is not so low, but still many people passed away because of natural disasters every year.

It reminds us how fragile the everyday life is and naturally make us think the nature as a super power.
In this way, the tradition of ancient climber, Yamabushi is still alive.

This could be related with the facts that

  • almost 10 percent of Japanese population enjoy outdoor including hiking, fishing or mountaineering.
  • Mount Tanigawa is the mountain on which more than 800 people were dead on its climbing (about 200 people have died on Mt. Everest over a comparable period).



As I finished the program I felt so thankful to…it may sounds too spiritual, but to be honest, the everything from family, friends, colleagues and even the animals and plants which co-create the environment with human race.
It was similar to the feelings when I safely came back from the hardest traditional alpine climbing.

All the time from the era of Christ or Buddha to us, going into wilderness inspires ones mind.
To help our clients get refreshing and inspiration is the happiest rewards of guiding mountains.