Hiking in the World of Witchcraft

In the east of Osaka, there are low mountains called Ikoma. Even the highest peak of them is mere 642 meters. It makes the border between Osaka and Nara.

Nara was the oldest capital of this country. We do not know exactly when the first capital was settled, but perhaps in the fourth or the fifth century. An ancient myth tells us that a prince called Iwarehiko came to Nara from a land in the west and became the first Emperor. The day of his enthronement is said to be February 11. It is, however, a legend, and almost nobody believes it to be a historic fact.

Anyway, today is the day, and it is a national holiday. I went hiking to Ikoma mountains. The picture in the right is a landscape from a peak. The city below is Osaka. I liked climbing mountains from my childhood. After growing up, I got absorbed in climbing mountain streams. In the southern part of Nara, there are steep mountains and many ravines with beautiful waterfalls. I spent my young days climbing those waterfalls. Now I get old and it is difficult to continue this sport. Recently I only go hiking to low mountains. Fortunately, we have many beautiful places for hiking near Osaka.

There are temples of Shugendô in the mountains. It is a religion peculiar to Japan. Buddhism and ancient witchcraft are mixed up there. The followers of the religion like penance; they meditate on the top of a high rock, shower under a chilly cold waterfall, fast for many days, etc. They try to be wizards, and actually they often obtain magical healing power.

The picture in the left is an image of a goddess of Shugendô. She is called Benzaiten or Benten, bur originally she was an Indian goddess called Sarasvatî. As she is a goddess of the water, she is often enshrined in the source of a river. Shugendô is enormously eclectic and worships not only Japanese gods and goddess but also Chinese and Indian ones. We, ordinary Buddhists, are a little afraid to approach their temples, as they are too much paganish, even if they are not hostile to us at all.