Last weekend I visited Mount Daisen, just across the border in western Tottori Prefecture. Compared with the mountains further east in Japan, Daisen is not particularly tall, but at 1729 metres it is the tallest mountain in the Chugoku region, and its highest peak and ridges are considered the most difficult in Japan. In winter climbers heading for Everest practice here.
Below the peak is prime climbing and hiking country with many fine trails. Normally by this time of the year the leaves have already changed to their autumn colors, but this year the season is late and they have only just begun to turn.
At about 800 metres above sea level, the village that has built up around Daisen-Ji Temple and Okamiyama Shrine is the starting place for many of the trails, and there are plenty of minshuku, temple lodgings, and hotels in the area as it is surrounded by dozens of ski-lifts. Daisen is considered to be the best skiing in southwest Japan.
The mountain was once a great training centre for Yamabushi, the mountain ascetics who followed the Shugendo religion.
While we were there the temple was holding a ceremony and parade, and while we walked down from the temple we heard the sound of a conch shell being blown and then a group of contemporary yamabushi appeared in their strange garb.
Shugendo was outlawed by the Meiji Government as it was considered too primitive and superstitious for the modern "enlightened" Japan. Following World War II Shugendo was revived, but is now only a pale shadow of what it once was.
Down below in the town of Mizokuchi we visited the Oni Museum. The most common translation of the word "Oni" into English is "Demon", and while the traditions differ from region to region, Oni in Japan have less of a connection with another world or hell, but are believed to have been human. The most likely explanation of Oni is that they were the indigenous people of the land, known as Jomon, and that as the proto-Japanese, the Yayoi, came to the islands from the mainland they settled in the plains where they could grow rice, and the Jomon retreated into the mountains and high country. Raids by these much hairier people led to the stories of Oni.
The museum is aimed largely at kids, but they had a good collection of demon masks from around the world and Japan that were my reason for visiting.
While in the Daisen area I decided to visit some shrines that were particularly interesting. For want of a better word they were "genital" shrines. Look at the Torii (Shrine gate) above. The ends of the crosspiece are shaped as a penis, and in the centre is a vagina with outspread legs.
This is Hoto Shrine, hoto being an old Japanese word for vagina. The basis of the shrine is in the most famous of all Japanese myths, the story of Iwato, when Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess, hid herself away in a cave.
All the other Gods gathered outside the cave to try and get her to come back out and bring light to the world but to no avail, until a Goddess named Uzume performed a shamanic dance which ended with her exposing her genitals. At this all the other Gods roared with laughter and, wondering what the commotion was about, Amaterasu peeked out and was pulled back out into the world.
So, according to the shrine, we owe the world and life as we know it to the vagina.
Hard to argue with that.
Nearby was another vagina shrine, photo above. Next to this shrine was a Penis shrine whose specialty is curing Penile Dysfunction.
Shrines can be fascinating places to visit!
Mt Daisen is part of the Daisen-Oki National Park.
The nearest city is Yonago, Tottori, on the JR San-in line. Yonago airport connects with many cities in Japan.
Daisenguchi Station has buses that run up to the mountain.
To see the full set of photos, including many phallic objects, Oni, etc please view my Mount Daisen Slideshow
Buy tasteful interior decoration paper lanterns.
Books on Japan
Japan images by Jake Davies
Japan tottori daisen daisen-ji yamabushi demons phallic
Sunday, November 05, 2006