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Alphabe Thursday … B is for Matsou Basho (1644 – 1694)

November 27, 2014


It would seem that Japanese people are among the most avid mountaineers and walkers of mountains in the world.  However, it has not always been this way.  Japanese mountains have been sacred since prehistoric times, they were too holy for the steps of ordinary peoples.  So, shrines and sanctuaries were built at their feet instead from where they could be worshiped at a dignified distance.

In the 6th century Buddhism was introduced from China and new practices were allowed.  The devotees would climb to the highest peaks to communicate more closely with the gods.  Although monks and aesthetics continued to wander up, down and among the foot hills; climbing the mountains became a central part of the religious practice, particularly among the Shugendo; a Buddhist mountaineering sect.  So, while there were festivals, ceremonies and prolonged rituals, a kind of priestly guide service emerged.  The 17th century Zen poet Basho with is companion climbed some of Shugendu’s  most sacred mountains, during his wanderings he tells us in his epic poem The narrow road of the deep north ‘ … I set off with my guide on a long march of eight miles to the top of the mountain. I walked in the mists and clouds, breathing the thin air of high altitudes and stepping on slippery ice and snow, till at last through a gateway of clouds, as it seemed, to the very paths of the sun and moon, I reached the summit, completely out of breath and nearly frozen to death.’

After Shugendo was banned in the 19th century, it was no longer a major religion in Japan, but the shrines can still be seen and Mount Fuji remains a busy pilgrimage site for the remaining practitioners and devoted mountaineers.

alphabet thursday

7 Comments leave one →
  1. November 27, 2014 6:18 pm

    What an interesting read.

  2. tempestletrope permalink
    November 27, 2014 8:31 pm

    What wonderful history! I enjoyed studying Japan in the fourth grade and I do take comfort in basic Buddhist philosophy, but I’m hardly an expert. I enjoyed learning this!

    • November 28, 2014 6:50 am

      Thank you for you kind comments ; I am no expert also … but enjoyed writing it x

  3. November 29, 2014 9:55 pm

    that’s so interesting. Now I’ll know when I’ll see photographs of Chinese monastaries up in the mountains. {:-D

  4. December 2, 2014 11:32 pm

    How neat!

    I know so little of Japanese culture and/or history!

    It’s fun to learn more through these links!

    Thank you.


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