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Kuji Kaoni Musashi is a Yamabushi from the Muromachi period. For those unaware of the role of Yamabushi in Japanese culture, they are referred to as mountain ascetics. They are also sometimes referred to, in some literature, as a well organized group of hermits. Most consider Yamabushi to practice a form of Buddhism, although there is documentation to support the existence of Yamabushi before Buddhism came to Japan. The main duties for Yamabushi, then and now, were to assist pilgrims as they journey through the mountains and keep them safe. They would also accept many of the duties that more mainstream temples would reject, such as changing one's luck, the casting out of evil spirits, etc.

During ancient times many in the peasant class regarded Yamabushi with some apprehension. Their practices were unknown and seemed mysterious to the locals. During the winter months, when most individuals would leave the mountains, Yamabushi would gather in the mountains until spring. Yamabushi are said to follow the ancient Japanese religion called shugendou. A follower of this faith is called shugenja. Modern interpretations of shugenja are loosely translated as "magic user" or "wizard". These are not to be considered accurate translations. A more accurate translation would be "a person of training and testing". Yamabushi have a long association in Japanese culture with supernatural beings, as is evident in the tale of Soujoubou.

The clothing of Yamabushi is quite distinct, starting with the head dress which is referred to as tokin. The tokin has decreased in size over time and is now represented in modern times as a small pill box sized hat, worn on the forehead. During the middle ages it was significantly larger. A good representation of this can be found at "The Costume Museum" [http://www.iz2.or.jp/fukushoku/f_disp.php?page_no=0000093]. Another distinct feature is called yui-gesa. This garment is a modified gesa or kesa, meaning "a Buddhist monk's stole". The Yamabushi garment is distinctive as it has a number of yui-gesa-no-bonten which appears to be pom-poms. Sometimes they are mistaken for "fuzzy balls". The last distinctive garment is the hisshiki. This is a piece of fur affixed to a belt that covers from waist to knee, worn in the rear. Hisshiki's primary function is to protect the rest of the clothing when the Yamabushi sits, as the mountains can be cold and damp frequently. When on pilgrimage, the Yamabushi can sometimes be seen wearing a black and white checkered garment called suzukake. The primary purpose for this garment is to be able to be seen at great distances by pilgrims that may have become lost.

Yamabushi have also been known to take up arms and have fought alongside Samurai and Sohei (warrior monks). In late period it was not uncommon for warlords to have Yamabushi advisors in their court, while maintaining their shamanistic traditions. This is perhaps why Yamabushi are sometimes still represented as "magic users" or "wizards".


Last Updated: Tuesday, November 11, 2014 21:48

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