Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Mumyo Bridge, Tennenji Yaba, & Yamabushi Mountain Training


The pinnacles of rock that rise behind Tennenji Temple and the Kawanaka Fudo are called Tennenji Yaba, and clearly visible spanning a precipitous gap is the unusual Mumyo Bridge. When I first saw it, almost twenty years ago, it was very much off limits to visitors, but nowadays it is possible to climb up, though you are repeatedly warned that you do so at your own risk.

Coming down towards Tennenji from Choanji Temple you catch glimpses of the cliffs and rock formations that are typical of the Kunisaki peninsula. Anywhere such landscapes can be found in Japan, you will find sites connected to Yamabushi, the mountain ascetics who were drawn to such places of spiritual power.

Many of these areas will still have the remains of training routes used by the Yamabushi. This rock formation above is adjacent to the Mumyo Bridge and you can see the chains used by the monks to clamber along these "pilgrimage" routes.

Many of these sites in the Kunisaki peninsula were connected along a pilgrimage trail that began at Usa Hachimangu and then wound its way around the peninsula. This ancient route has been revived by the creation of the Kunisakihanto Minemichi Long Trail which closely follows the route. There is not much in the way of infrastructure along the route, and certain sections do involve having to use chains to get up and over steep sections.

I was on my second day walking along the route which I was using as a rough guide to get me around the peninsula to visit the first seven of the temples on the Kyushu Fudo Myo pilgrimage which all are found in the Kunisaki area.

After leaving Tennenji the route heads over the ridge to the next valley and passes close to the Mumyo Bridge, however, I was carrying a full pack for a multi-night hike and decided not to take the side-route to the bridge as I did not fancy descending loaded up with so much weight. Several times I would have to navigate such steep and dangerous sections and didn't want to push it.

The trail was hairy enough as it was, and I would certainly not recommend it to inexperienced hikers, however, the views from the pass over the ridge were spectacular.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Tennenji Temple & Misosogi Shrine


Located above  the Kawanaka Fudo Magaibutsu, Tennenji Temple and Misosogi Shrine are in essence the same place.

They are fairly rudimentary structures, one with a thatched roof. A flood in 1941 washed the original temple away and there have been no resident priests since then and the remaining statues have been looked after by local people.

These 4-5 meter long torches are in readiness for the Shujo Onie fire festival in early February where dancers dressed as demons dance with fire to bring good fortune. These fire festivals take place at several sites around the Kunisaki peninsula. The one I visited at Iwatoji Temple can be seen here.

Next door is a museum devoted to the Shujo Onie festival but which also houses many of the ancient statues from the original temple.

The shrine building has a male-female mask combination. This is fairly common at many shrines, and most would say that the red-faced mask with the long nose was a Tengu, but I think it is a Sarutahiko mask as it is not wearing the tokin, the small black hat that yamabushi wore.

Sarutahiko is considered one of the origins of Tengu. According to the ancient myths, Sarutahiko guided the Yamato heavenly deities down to Japan and later married Uzume and that leads to the combination of masks seen here....

Uzume later became the model for the Otafuku character.....

The shrine, and temple, have their inner sanctuaries under overhangs in the cliff face....

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Middle of the River Fudo Myo


Kawanaka Fudo is a large relief carving of Fudo Myo flanked by his two attendants. It is carved into a huge boulder in the Nagaiwaya River in the Kunisali peninsula of Oita in north Kyushu.

I arrived here after climbing down from Choanji  Temple on the morning of my second day walking along an old pilgrimage route around the peninsula that I was following as the start of my walk along the Kyushu Fudo Myo pilgrimage.

Yesterday right at the very start of my walk I visited a much larger cliff carving of Fudo at the Kumano Magaibutsu, magaibutsu being the Japanese word for cliff carving.

This one is much  smaller at only 3 meters in height. Above the riverbank is Tennenji Temple and Misosogi Shrine, a syncretic sacred site typical of the form of shugendo that operated here for centuries.

Rokugo Manzan, the name of the system that was a combination of Usa Hachiman Shinto and Tendai Buddhism, was responsible for the many magaibutsu in the area. Oita has more magaibutsu than any other area of Japan, and the Kunisaki area has the most in Oita. Some of the other ones I visited yesterday can be seen here.

In fact, the whole landscape of the Kunisaki peninsula is inscribed as a mandala. This river valley is one of 28 that radiate out from the centre of the peninsula. The Lotus Sutra contains 28 chapters. There are more than 32,000 Chinese characters in the Lotus Sutra, and it is said that the exact same number of stone statues and cliff carvings were made in this area.

here are a couple of other small magaibutsu  in the vicinity. This area is one of my favorite areas in all of Japan, and typing in "Kunisaki" or clicking any of the tags below will bring up dozens and dozens of posts.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Kakuro Tatara Museum


Tatara are the traditional type of forge used to smelt iron in historical Japan. They used charcoal and iron sand rather than coal and iron ore.

The first iron used in Japan was all imported from the Korean countries on the peninsula, which begs the question what they paid for this fundamental resource. One historian suggests mercenaries which would make sense of the Japanese military involvement on the peninsula in ancient times.

Later iron sand was discovered and so domestic production of iron began using tatara forges, the technique also having been introduced from the Asian mainland.

The Chugoku mountains and especially the Okuizumo area became the centre of iron and steel production for ancient Japan until the late 19th century when the more efficient western techniques of iron production using coal and ore were introduced.

This former tatara high up in the Chugoku mountains was actually not built until the 1930's. It was built next to an Edo period tatara that closed down in 1911. It is a kind of hybrid forge, utilizing a mix of traditional and modern techniques. It is close to where the Sakurai family, a high-ranking samurai family that controlled some of the iron production in the region.

The museum is free to enter and has plenty of information, in Japanese, about the technology as well as numerous mannequins showing scenes..... The bellows were operated by water power.

During the 1930's the US began to apply sanctions against Japan because of the invasion of China.... these sanctions eventually included all export of iron and scrap iron to Japan, which suggests that this tatara was created to improve the situation for Japan. It ceased operating in 1945.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Fudo Myoo at Iwaya-ji Temple


Last post I showed you inside the cave below the main hall of Iwaya-ji Temple, the mountain temple that is number 45 on the Shikoku pilgrimage. Along with a Jizo and a Kobo Daishi, Fudo is the main statue there.

After starting up the steep trail from the road you pass  a bronze statue of Fudo along with his 36 acolytes.

Iwayaji was a yamabushi site and often at such ascetic sites there will be Fudo statues.

Behind the Kokuzodo near the top of the trail is a small cave with a Benzaiten statue and also this large stone Fudo.

According to the legend, Kobo Daishi carved two statues of Fudo Myo here, both "hidden", one in the main hall and the other u at the okunoin.

However, there are quite a few small carvings of Fudo scattered around, many having been left by worshippers in the past.

As any regular readers of my blog will know, I have posted hundreds and hundreds of photos of Fudo Myo, which posts you can easily access by clicking on the Fudo Myojin tag below......

The most detailed post I have done about Fudo is this one from the Sasaguri pilgrimage....

This final photo is of a statue of  Kurikara, the sword of Fudo which exists as a manifestation of Fudo but also as a separate deity.....

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Iwayaji Temple 45 on the Shikoku Ohenro


Iwayaji, temple 44 on the Ohenro pilgrimage in Shikoku, is located among towering cliffs and spires of rock high in the mountains of Kumakogen in Ehime.

The surroundings are what I would consider a  classic shugendo environment, and any similar -looking places I have ever seen have all been yamabushi sites. I subscribe to the theory that much of the Shikoku pilgrimage is based on a series of Yamabushi training areas that became linked.

When I met a young priest I commented to him how jealous I was of the location of his home, clinging to the base of the cliff with great views down and across the mountainous countryside.

According to the story, when Kobo Daishi visited here he found a female hermit already living here. He carved two statues of Fudo Myo, one is the honzon in the main hall, and the other is enshrined higher up the mountain in the Okunoin. Because of the snow I decided against climbing up to the Okunoin.

A fire destroyed all the main buildings in 1898. The Kokuzodo, a small structure below the main shrine on the path up, and the Niomon, a little distance from the main temple at an older entrance, both survived and date back to the 18th century.

The current main hall was built in 1927, and is unusually smaller than the Daishido which was built in 1920. The Daishido is registered as an Important Cultural Property because it applarently incorporates numerous western elements into its traditional temple architecture.

There are numerous caves in the area that were used by the ascetics. A ladder leads up to one with a wooden platform where a small structure, the Hokke Sennindo, used to be. From here the views are remarkable.

Below the main hall is an entrance into a narrow 10 metre deep cave with an altar and several statues.

Next up some photos of the Fudo Myo statues and carvings here.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Cimbing Up to Iwaya-ji Temple in Winter

Iwayaji, temple 45 on the Shikoku Ohenro pilgrimage is a favorite of many pilgrims. It is a mountain temple at more than 600 meters altitude ( 700 if you include the okunoin) and is considered a nansho, a difficult to reach temple.

However, a main road ( and a bus) gets to the base of the final climb up which is less than 1k

There is a group of small shops near the start of the ascent selling pilgrim supplies and snacks etc. There are also a pair of bronze nio, not housed in a Nio gate. There is a Nio gate up near the main buildings of the temple but it is on a mountain path that approached from a different direction.

The Sanmon, mountain gate, was not built until 1937, is a good spot to rest as the sections before and after the gate are steep.

There are some giant sugi trees, and much of the surrounding forest is Horse Chestnut.

There are a lot of statues on the way up including a Fudo myo with 36 acolytes (more of Fudo in a later post), a Kobo Daishi, and many Jizo.

Just before reaching the main temple buildings, you pass the Kokuzo-do, actually the oldest remaining structure of the temple following a fire in 1898.

Next up some shots from the main temple.