■ 2017.02.28

2016 Prince and Princess Chichibu Memorial Alpine Award given to study of mountain religion

2016 Prince and Princess Chichibu Memorial Alpine Award presented to Masataka Suzuki for his study of mountain religion  

Masataka Suzuki, chairman of the Association for the Study of Japanese Mountain Religion and Keio University professor emeritus, has received the 2016 Prince Chichibu Memorial Alpine Award for his achievements in the over four decades of study of mountain religion and Shugendo (Japanese mountain ascerticism-shamanism, incorporating Shinto and Buddhist concepts).

The award was created in 1998 by the Japanese Alpine Club to commend mountain-related activities and achievements as well as to promote mountaineering activities and mountain culture in honor of the late Prince and Princess Chichibu, who loved mountain hiking and had deep interest in and knowledge about mountains and mountain culture. 

The 2016 award was presented to Professor Suzuki during the JAC’s 2016 annual dinner party held in December at a Tokyo hotel. The past award recipients – 21 individuals and 1 group – include:a JAC Tokai Section team, led by Noboru Onoe and Osamu Tanabe, who succeeded in the world’s first winter ascent of the Lhotse South Face in 2006, and Ms. Reiko Saegusa, a JAC member, who compiled the first Nepalese-Japanese dictionary (2010 award). 

Professor Suzuki has investigated and collected folklores and oral traditions as well as documents on mountain religion handed down in various parts of the country and pursued the study of mountain religion in Japan for more than four decades. 

Indigenous religion of mountain worship in Ancient Shintoism, fused with esoteric Buddhism in Japan developed as mountain religion. Buddhist priests often trained themselves in mountains, and many ascended to unscaled high mountain peaks, opening temples.  In recent years, many of the major sacred mountains in Japan are marking more than 1,000 years since the “opening of the mountain” – or founding of temples there: 1,250 years (in 2016) since the founding in Mount Nantai-san in Nikko by Saint Shodo, 1,300 years (2017) since the opening of Mount Hakusan by Shugendo priest Taicho, and 1,300 years (2018) since the opening of Mount Hoki Daisen by legendary Saint Kinren, to name a few. 

Shugendo developed and prospered particularly in the Muromachi and Edo Period (14th to 19th centuries). During the Edo Period, many schemes were organized, such as “Fuji Ko,” “Oyama Ko,” and “Ontake Ko,” – to climb Mt. Fuji, Mt. Oyama and Mt. Ontake to worship in groups. 

The Meiji government’s modernization policies, however, banned long practiced syncretism, or mixture, of Shintoism and Buddhism, in 1868 to abolish Buddhism and destroy Buddhist temples and images. In 1872 Shugendo was banned totally. 

In his speech following the award presentation, Professor Suzuki, after summarizing the rise and decline of mountain religion, noted the recent spreading moves to designate and try to preserve “Reizan” or sacred mountains, religious rituals and festivals, traditional performing arts, closely related to Shugendo, as cultural assets or cultural heritage. 

As examples of such moves he pointed to the 2004 registration of the “Sacred places and pilgrimage routes in the Kii Mountains – including Koyasan Temple, Mount Yoshino, Omine-san and Kumano – as World Cultural Heritage, and the UNESCO registration in 2013 of “Mt. Fuji – as the object of faith and source of art.” 

He says that, in this context, the establishment in 2016 of a new national holiday “Mountain Day” of Aug. 11 presents a good opportunity for us to re-examine Japan’s mountain religion and Shugendo and their meaning to Japanese people.