Japan’s sacred mountain famous for 3 trials of courage
Mount Omine is a male-only mountain for Buddhist pilgrims and tests the courage of its devotees.
At first it may seem like something out of Greek mythology, but in Japan there is a mountain for three tests of courage. The mountain is called Mount Ōmine (officially Mount Sanjō) and is a sacred mountain of Japanese Buddhism in Yoshino-Kumano National Park not far from Osaka.
There are so many things to see and do in Japan. For many it is a spiritual place and the temples and shrines are a draw. But everyone should visit and explore the magnificent imperial city of Kyoto while in Japan.
What to know about Mount Ōmine
At the top of the mountain is the temple of Ōminesanji. This important temple is the seat of the Shugendō sect of Japanese Buddhism. The whole mountain is part of a place of pilgrimage and training for yamabushi.
- Located: In Yoshino-Kumano National Park, Japan
Yamabushi translates to “one who bows down on the mountain”. The yamabushi are mountain ascetic hermits whose origin dates back to the 8th and 9th centuries. They are normally members of the syncretic Shugendo religion (it has elements of Shintoism and Tantric Buddhism).
It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the list “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range”
“…Three sacred sites – Yoshino and Omine, Kumano Sanzan and Koyasan – are connected by pilgrimage routes to the ancient capitals of Nara and Kyoto. Together, these sites, the pilgrimage routes and the surrounding forests form a cultural landscape that reflect the fusion of Shintoism, rooted in the ancient tradition of nature worship in Japan, and Buddhism…”
Prohibition for women
The ban on women accessing the sacred mountain is not new, it has been in place for around 1,300 years. No woman is allowed to climb mountains sacred to the Shinto religion. Women are also banned from the Extreme Katskhi Pillar Monastery in Georgia.
That the entrance to the trailhead is a 13 foot stone pillar that reads “From here [onward] is the women’s area” (從是女人結界). There is also an 11-foot wooden gate that reads “Restricted Area at Women’s Gate” (女人結界門). In addition, a sign was erected in English and Japanese “No Women Admitted”.
- Duration of the ban: For the past 1,300 years
According to Japan Info, the banning of women is not actually imposed on visitors, but is seen as deeply disrespectful to their ancient tradition and religion. Women are asked to respect the prohibition. Japan Info goes on to say about the ban on women:
“This may be due to the concept of blood impurity resulting from menstruation and childbirth. Also, women may serve as a distraction for Yamabushi monks who lead a hermit life…”
Women are also banned in Japan from entering the Sumo ring and the BBC reported the case of a woman who was told to leave the ring after rushing to give medical assistance to a collapsed man in the ring.
The Trials of Courage
Courage tests can be undertaken by male mountain climbers. But we don’t need to do them and we can just choose to bypass them instead. They are:
Kane Kane Iwa:
Or Kanekaka Iwa. It’s the first test of courage and it’s a hanging stone or crab rock where you have to scale a 30ft rock face. It is called “the Crab Rock” because of the position you have to take when climbing.
- First test: Scale a 30-foot rock face
Most of it is easily climbable but at the top is an overhanging rock. To overcome the last part, swing a lot on top, then use a built-in chain to go up.
Nishi no Nozoki:
The second test of courage translates to “the insight of the West”. It is another steep cliff 60 meters or 200 feet high. Here, novices are held with their heads at the edge of the cliff and are forced to admit their wrongdoing and promise to obey social and religious laws.
- Second trial : Being held over a cliff and admitting your wrongs
“Did you drink too much alcohol and play with women?” The monks pushed the disciple further over the cliff before he even shouted, “Yes!” “What was that?” asked the monks pushing him further over the edge. “We couldn’t hear you.”
– Trip to Japan
The third and final test of courage translates to “The Rock of Equality”. Performing this test of courage is only possible by special request. It is a rocky spit overhanging a cliff with several ledges that allow people to cross from side to side.
- Third try: Transverse projections along a rock spire overhanging a cliff
After testing your courage, you can see if you want to become a hermit on the mountain or not. Each test is meant to test the spiritual power of the pilgrims.
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