In the decade after 1868 the matrix upon which traditional Japanese religion was based, referred to by scholars as shinbutsu shûgô, was recast. Shugendo, the very epitome of combinatory religion, had no place in the new system, and its death-knell had been rung well before its formal ban in 1872. The phenomenon of shinbutsu bunri shares many elements with the much longer drawn-out process of Reformation in England, not least in that it is widely regarded as the action of a powerful authority on an unwilling subject. In this talk I will describe the process of kami-buddha separation at Hagurosan, during the Edo period one of the most important Shugendo centres in Japan, drawing particular attention to the process by which it was “allowed” to happen.
Given the post-Meiji history of Shugendo, Hagurosan is unique in that it has maintained a Shugendo tradition both through Buddhism (the temple Kotakuji) and Shinto (Dewa Sanzan Jinja). Unusually, there is some antipathy between the two groups, and its basis lies in what happened in the early years of Meiji when the shrine-temple complex and its ancillary town were forced to make decisions and compromises which continue to affect their descendants there today. A key to analysing the motivations and actions that led to the transformation of Hagurosan into an imperial shrine is the unpublished Diary of Nishikawa Sugao, the Kyobusho-appointed religious bureaucrat who went there in 1873 to “take the yamabushi in hand”.
I will sketch the events leading up to 1873, and then use excerpts from the Diary to show how Nishikawa skillfully used social divisions, the uncertainties of the times, and his own deep-felt conviction of the rightness of his “reformation” to gain the support of the people necessary for the success of the policy. It will be seen that to talk simply of the weak giving in to pressure from above is too simple an explanation of the process that led to the end of Shugendo as it was traditionally practised at Hagurosan, but also, ironically, to the conditions that have underpinned its survival there.