Shipporyuji Temple and surrounding Mt. Inunaki are home to a tragic tale. A monk-in-training named Kosei, who hailed from nearby Awaji Island, often visited the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, and there he met a delightful woman named Shizu, a lady-in-waiting. Kosei and Shizu grew close, but he decided to leave so as not to distract her from her duties. Saddened by his departure, Shizu searched for Kosei across several provinces, before learning that Kosei had taken up training at Mt Inunaki. Her arrival to the mountain was met with low-lying white clouds, and while navigating the narrow mountain roads, she slipped and injured herself by the roadside. Stranded, she passed away from the cold and hunger. The villagers who discovered her body decided to bury her close to the mountains. Since her passing, whenever rain is accompanied by low-lying white clouds, the local villagers believe it to be Shizu’s Tears, which flow into the waterfalls of the mountain. It is also believed that if you drink the water every day, your most heartfelt wish will come true.
Shugendo: A Spiritual Journey into the Mountains of Shipporyuji Temple
Located deep in the heart of Mt. Inunaki lies Shipporyuji Temple, head of the Inunaki sect of the Shingon school of Buddhism. The mountains surrounding the temple are considered to be the oldest sacred peaks in Japan, with a recorded history that dates as far back as 661 CE. They offer visitors the unique opportunity to experience the practices of Shugendo, which were historically restricted only to men.
A Sorrowful Story
The Seven Lucky Gods
From 824–834, the entire country was faced with an intense drought. The emperor at the time, Emperor Junna (786-840), visited sacred mountains around the country to pray for rain, including Mt. Inunaki. It is said that afterward, a miraculous rain fell on the entire Senshu region. Mt. Inunaki was the location of seven waterfalls that were associated with fortune, and it is for this reason that the emperor named it Shipporyuji, a name that contains the Japanese character for “seven.” The monk Kukai (774-835)—the founder of Shingon Buddhism—also visited, and recognized the falls as sacred conduits for the seven gods of fortune. Legend has it that visitors who make the pilgrimage to Shipporyuji will be granted the favor of the gods of fortune.
In Japanese mythology, the seven lucky gods represent various virtues, and different aspects of fortune. Ebisu is depicted holding a fish and a fishing rod, and is known as a god of fishermen and merchants. For wealth and prosperity, Daikokuten bears a wide grin, with a mallet in his right hand and a large bag over his shoulder. Benzaiten, the only goddess among the seven, is often depicted holding a lute. She is the goddess of music and arts and represents joy. To represent dignity, the fierce looking Bishamonten guards believers and punishes evil. Fukurokuju is characterized by a long beard and a large forehead, and represents longevity. Often mistaken for Fukurokuju due to their similar appearance, Jurojin is often depicted with a deer, and also represents longevity. Finally, to represent happiness, Hotei is shown with a large belly and an equally large smile, and is often referred to as the “Laughing Buddha.”
Shipporyuji Temple has become synonymous in the Senshu area with the practice of Shugendo.
Shugendo is an ancient ascetic religion based on mountain worship that blends elements of both Buddhism and Shinto. A Shugendo practitioner is called a yamabushi (literally “one who lies in the mountains”). They engage in both spiritual and physical disciplines—such as long-distance endurance treks, fasting, and meditation—to develop spiritual powers and protect their communities. They also historically served as both Shinto priests and Buddhist monks. The mountains are considered to be otherworldly, and are training grounds for esoteric Buddhists to practice personal and spiritual self-discipline.
Shugendo was outlawed by the government during the Meiji era (1868-1912), during which time Shipporyuji temporarily fell from esteem. Following the end of WWII, Shipporyuji recovered, and is now a place where many different belief systems peacefully converge.
A Day-Long Shugendo Experience at Shipporyuji
At Shipporyuji Temple, visitors can get hands-on with the unique practices of Shugendo as a pilgrim.
Participants are expected to confirm their booking at reception by 8:45 a.m. on the day of the experience, and assemble in the courtyard by 8:50 a.m. Toilets are not located along the hiking route, so visitors taking part are expected to go before assembling. The leader of the yamabushi will provide a brief explanation about the upcoming hike into the sacred mountains, which starts behind the temple. The group is then led into the main worship hall (hondo) to signal their presence to the gods residing in the mountains, and to pray for the safety of all the worshippers through an extravagant ceremony that involves blowing conch shells (horagai). The group is then split by gender, and female worshippers take the lead into the mountains. The route is challenging and thrilling, and takes visitors over narrow paths along cliffs, wide enough for a single person,
At the end of the route, there is one final ritual. One by one, the yamabushi practitioners wrap a rope around each person’s body, and hang each individual over the edge of a rock overlooking the valley below. Each person is asked if they have any worries or sins they would like to admit, before asking them to scream the word “yes” to a variety of promises (such as respecting the thoughts and hopes of family members). The screaming is a natural and vital component of the ritual, and ensures that the gods in the mountains are able to hear the promises being made. A final push towards the valley evokes a concluding scream from the participant, before they are hoisted back onto solid ground, signaling the end of the ritual. A final prayer is conducted at a nearby shrine along with offerings of food and sake, and the group hikes back down, with yamabushi leading the way.
Once the group returns to the temple area, everyone is asked to change into white robes in preparation for misogi and takigyo, traditional rituals of purification derived from the Shinto religion, which sees worshippers stand under a waterfall. Takigyo is believed to wash away misfortunes, sins, and other pollutants that have accumulated on one’s body. During the experience, the group prays together. After that, they are split into smaller groups with the guidance of a temple helper. Participants stand under the waterfall, all while yamabushi perform a ceremonial bout of movements to facilitate the cleansing process. Once purified, worshippers change back into their clothes and claim their certificate of completion at the hondo.
Normally Shugendo experiences prohibit participation from women, but everyone can join in at Shipporyuji. Please note that typically, the Shugendo experience is typically offered on the third Sunday of every month (dates may vary), with the exception of December through February. The price is ¥3,000 per person.
Participants must adhere to strict health and safety measures during the Shugendo experience. For safety reasons, visitors cannot enter the mountain on their own.
Please contact the Senshu Japan Concierge Team with reservation inquiries.