Shamanism, Shinto and Buddhism:
Travels in Syncretistic Japan

This is a page to show a sample of my photographs of two journeys to Japan, the subject of a (June 17 2002) slide show for the Sierra Club Lower Hudson Valley Group.

In this talk, I showed slides from two visits to Honshu, Japan's largest island, and described my impressions from travelling through Japan, walking, hitch-hiking and on public transport, visiting temples and staying in monasteries. In particular I will described two hikes I made along the pilgrimage trails to Koyasan and Ominesan, holy places for the Shingon and Shugendo buddhist sects.

Lanterns Kasuga Taisha shrine


Koyasan is the centre of the Shingon school of esoteric buddhism, a syncretistic mix of shinto and buddhism, founded by Kobo Daishi in 816. Here I stayed in a couple of the monasteries, observed a service and visited the temples. After my visit I descended on foot from the high plateau along a pilgrimage trail marked by stone pillars, and camped high on a hill by a small shrine overlooking the river valley.


Omine-san is a mountain sacred to the shugendo sect of buddhism (another syncretism with shinto, with more shamanistic traits) on the Kii peninsula, traditionally visited on August the first every year by the yamabushi (mountain priests) in the omine okugake shugyo pilgrimage. I hiked the trail for four days, and since it was out of season saw nobody for 48 hours. It was eerie to be so isolated in this sacred place. Carmen Blacker (see below) tells some fascinating tales about the practices of the yamabushi pilgrimage. It rained for much of the walk, the track was obscured by logging and there were several snakes, but it was a fascinating experience.



These photographs were taken at a ceremony in the Higashi Honganji Shin Buddhist temple, held to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Rennyo shonin who was credited with reviving the sect.


Swan and stone lantern.
Hida Folk village

Main world shrine, Takayama



Books that I used that I'd recommend are:
Hiking in Japan Paul Hunt pub. Kodansha.
Japan Lonely Planet Travel Survival Kit
The Catalpa Bow: A study of shamanistic practices in Japan Carmen Blacker pub: Japan Library. (In White Plains Library)

Some links:

Andrew Senior