The Mystical Pilgrimage in Misasa
Sanbutsu-ji is a syncretistic complex located at 900 meters in altitude on Mount Mitoku, and attached to Misasa City, in Tottori prefecture, Japan. The place blends Buddhism and Shinto beliefs and was built in 706 under the influence of En no Gyoja (or En no Ozunu), the founder of the Shugendo, a spiritual ascetic practice.
Sanbutsu-ji is embedded on Mount Mitoku rocky cliffs and while it does display an important religious heritage, the complex’s layout clashes with the traditional temples and shrines. Patience, courage and humbleness are required to hike its off the beaten tracks pilgrimage trail. The major interest of the visit is indeed to climb the sacred mountain in the same mindset as the monks and religious, up to the Nageire-do, designated a National Treasure of Japan.
During a difficult one-hour walk, which is not supervised and can be dangerous in some places, hikers tread between rocks and century-old giant roots, and pass by several impressive constructions such as:
- Monju-do temple,
- Kannon-do temple, and,
- Shoro-do, the big bell.
Monju-do is open to the visit and its stilt structure reminds of the Kiyomizu-dera. The most audacious will climb up to its narrow platform, which is not secured by any handrail, to admire an astounding view on the surrounding mountains.
The ascetic trail ends at the foot of Nageire-do, which is not open to public. This small wood pavilion, whose structure seems to have been delicately inserted in the rock, is only viewable from afar below. Mystery remains on how it was actually built, but according to the legend, the pavilion was literally thrown on the cliff using a transcendental power, an explanation that is still acknowledged by worshipers and guardians of the temple.
An adventurous hike
Visitors are welcomed by the jushoku head monk and his team of monks. The would-be climbers’ attire is checked to make sure it is suitable for continuing the trail, and monks offer recommendations. Traditional straw sandals that help walking safely on the earthen path and do not damage the roots are also available for purchase. Walking the path alone is not permitted, if so, one must wait for other visitors to arrive and join them.
Sanbutsu-ji is a significant place for Shugendo Buddhist sect, but is also a site where Shinto philosophy is deeply ingrained. Its location in a steep environment allowed its preservation from the strict enforcement of the State Shinto established during Meiji era (1868-1912).
Sanbutsu-ji’s main hall is located at the foot of Mount Mitoku, in a peaceful lush forest of huge cedar trees and soft green moss. Several other pavilions and Buddhist sculptures, along large stone stairways, complement the discovery of this wonderful pilgrimage place.