Saikoku’s 33 Temple Pilgrimage

“Saikoku sanjūsankasho hōgaku ezu” [西国三十三箇所方角繪圖] 1800 – By  Ōsakaya, Chōzaburō

The Historics

Pilgrimages have existed in Japan for more than a thousand years, many dating to the days of the Heian period [794-1185]. The most famous of Buddhist pilgrimages would be the Shikoku 88 Kannon Temple Pilgrimage which encircles the entire island of Shikoku, and is said to be the path that the great Kōbō-Daishi or Kūkai, the creator of Shingon Buddhism, once walked. Lesser known but just as important as the Shikoku 88, is the Saikoku 33 Kannon Temple Pilgrimage, the oldest Kannon pilgrimage in Japan and said to have been devised in 718 by the head priest known as Tokudo Shonin, who was a head priest at Hase-dera Temple in the Nara prefecture. In the Japanese Buddhist pilgrimages, the primary deity that is worshiped is Bodhisattva Kannon or Guanyin, “The Goddess of Mercy.” She is often depicted as a divine savior for those who are ready to pass onto the next life, by guiding them with one of her thousand arms.

This map, the “Saikoku sanjūsankasho hōgaku ezu” [西国三十三箇所方角繪圖] was created by Ōsakaya, Chōzaburō in 1800 and sold at Kokawa-dera Temple [粉河寺],  Kii Province [Wakayama Prefecture].

_DSC4940 - Copy

The map is a square [57.3 x 64.5 cm] mono colour woodblock print with some red colouration to help depict the main pilgrimage route which zig zag through 13 different provinces listed on the map. The map itself is generally an accurate depiction of the region, but it’s slightly distorted with some creative liberties taken to fit in all the information Chōzaburō wanted. The major cities are marked as a wide rectangle with the name within, most -prominently identifiable are Kyo [Kyoto], Osaka, Sakai, Nara, Ise, and Wakayama. On the roads between each toll station is a distance indicator called Ri [リ] , each Ri is 3.9 kilometers. The island of Shikoku where the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage takes place is indicated on the map with nautical distance and estimated time of travel by boat. The temples themselves are identified by the long narrow black rectangles which shows the temple number and name.


[京] for Kyoto「京都」written in the middle. Written above Kyoto is Yamashiro「山城」, One of the historical provinces of Japan before the prefecture system. 

This particular map was created at Kokawa-dera, the third temple on the Saikoku pilgrimage. The first temple on the pilgrimage is not actually Hase-dera Temple, where Tokudo Shonin was head priest at, but at Seiganto-ji [青岸渡寺] at the bottom of the Kii Peninsula. Aside from the most holy of places like Ise Jingu, Izumo Taisha, Kasuga Taisha, Mt. Hiei, Mt. Koya, Mt. Fuji, and etc., Seiganto-ji holds a special place within Japanese religion as one of the few places in Japan where Buddhism and Shinto amalgamate. Seiganto-ji was purposefully built near Nachi Falls, one of the most well-known waterfalls in Japan, and falls within the Kumano Sanzan complex where the famous Kumano Kodo pilgrimage takes place. As such, Seiganto-ji is listed on both the Saikoku 33 Pilgrimage, and the Kumano Kodo. Today, it is one of the few remaining Jingu-ji [Shrine Temple] still in existence after the forcible separation of Shinto and Buddhism operated by the Japanese government during the Meiji restoration.


#3 Kokawa-dera 「粉河寺」


#1 Seiganto-ji 「青岸渡寺」, written as Nachi Yama「なち山」, refers to the famous Nachi Falls which is within the Kumano Sanzan complex, the heart of the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage.

The Questions

One of the few questions we should ask about maps are, “Is this map accurate?” and, “Are there any major information omitted?” As aforementioned, the map itself is quite accurate for the average pilgrim looking forward to doing the pilgrimage route. As for informational accuracy, nothing as far as temples and shrines are concerned. Informed by Professor Mari Fujita, from the School of Architecture and Landscape at UBC, some mapmakers deliberately omit information to pursue their own or political agenda. Therefore, maps are generally incomplete and highly selective of the content the mapmaker wants to disseminate. Although the Tendai [Mt. Hiei] and Shingon [Mt. Koya] schools of Buddhism share a rivalry, the temples of the Saikoku pilgrimage are of mixed affiliation, there would be no benefit for spreading misinformation among religious pilgrims, as such deeds would bring about bad karma in the eyes of Kannon. Observant viewers able to read and make out the map may notice that Mt. Koya is prominently visible on the map, but Mt. Hiei is buried away under small print, shouldn’t this suggest an agenda? I was assured by UBC sessional lecturer, Dr. Eiji Okawa Ph.D that this was not the case. He suggested that because this was a pilgrimage map, the finer details were not as important; pilgrims looking forward to visiting certain areas or Mt. Hiei should have no problem with more detailed maps of the Kyoto area. Okawa also praised the Saikoku map, calling it a “pragmatic map” for its audience and quality.

The Pilgrims

Another question we should ask is, “Who are Buddhist pilgrims, and what were their motivations to participate in pilgrimages?” A true Buddhist pilgrim is one who has casted his worldly desires aside and only lives within his means, wearing nothing but a white monk’s robe, a walking stick, a hat, prayer beads, and his belongings in a bundle from temple to temple on foot. Buddhist monks and priests generally live a simple lifestyle that did not involve much currency transaction, therefore much of their food and expenses were either earned with labour or alms. One of the many reasons why Buddhist pilgrims undertake a pilgrimage is to follow in the footsteps of their elders, famous priests, or personal salvation. Not all pilgrims who undertake the Saikoku pilgrimage are devout Buddhist, in many cases, many ordinary people undertake the pilgrimage to sight-see or to ask for healing of sickness, byouki-oroshi.


Modern day pilgrims at Mt. Koya, Source:

A pilgrimage route is also a place of friendship, many pilgrims enter travel relationships or camaraderie with others who are performing the same practice, this is called dōgyōsan. This aspect is particularly significant on a spiritual level on the Shikoku 88, where the pilgrims can identify with the great Kōbō-Daishi, and follow along in his footsteps, but this can easily be relatable to any famous figure who has walked the Saikoku 33. Examples of pilgrimage taking can be found in many Japanese literature classics and popular culture, one famous example is Matsuo Basho’s secular pilgrimage to the north with his companion Sora, in his book,  Oku no Hosomichi [奥の細道] or The Narrow Road to the Interior. Popular culture examples include Jippensha Ikku’s Tōkaidōchū Hizakurige [東海道中膝栗毛] or Shank’s Mare, depicting slackers Kita and Yaji leaving their shabby Edo home on a pilgrimage to Ise. Famous poet Ihara Saikaku also dabbled in stories about pilgrimages in his short stories, Kōshoku Gonin Onna [好色五人女] or Five Women Who Loved Love.


Statues of Yaji and Kita, Sanjo Ohashi, Kyoto. Source:

To embark on a pilgrimage is a scared charge for religious pilgrims but, for the secular folks, David C. Moreton and Katharine Merrill translating Alfred Bohner eloquently puts it as:

“Sometimes there comes moments in our lives when simply everything fails; when every undertaking, every plan, no matter how well thoughtout, miscarries; when what we had counted on as most secure is overturned; a farmer’s harvest fails; his ox is carried off by disease; thieves have broken in and stolen the best of what little is left; and in addition to all this misfortune the young married daughter is sent home by the family of the bridegroom for what seems no reason at all, making them the laughing-stock of the neighbours and acquaintences, and brining discord into the house, where everyone wants to charge someone else with the guilt of the unsuccessful union. In such cases many japanese reach for the poison, throw themselves onto the railroad track in front of a train, or cast themselves into the sea. Others however tie up their bundles, equip themselves as well or as poorly as their means allow, and set off on a pilgrimage.”

What these stories and the passage above have in common is a trend in Edo period pilgrimage taking called Nuke Mairi, which is a pilgrimage in defiance of edicts, employers, family, or authority; in short, its a decision thats made on a whim to just drop everything and leave. The former is called Okage Mairi, which are sporadic communally sponsored pilgrimages taken by members of family, groups, villages, and even towns, to [most often] the Grand Ise Shrine.


The township of Ise「いせ」is marked on the map in a bubble, with the Grand Shrines Naikū [内宮] and Gekū [外宮] slightly below.


A wooden Torii guards the Uji Bridge that spans the Isuzu River to enter Naikū [内宮], The bridge is torn down every 20 years, as are the Shrine buildings to keep Amaterasu-ōmikami’s lodgings pristine and new, never to show age.

Townsfolk and merchants along the way tended to welcome travelers and pilgrims so long as their numbers were not excessive- offering free food, lodging, sandals, or medicine. Custom held that Gods, Buddhas, and holy men occasionally traveled incognito; Kindness to a disguised holy man or deity as innumerable legends attest, brings good fortune. Such kindness found along the way made pilgrimages much easier in the Edo period, as monks and priests were given alms regularly and treated fairly well. Such entrepreneurial activities were favoured and encouraged by the temples, which helped designate touring routes through towns and cities that would lead the pilgrim to various places of worship other than the main temple. As a result of nuke and okage mairi, these local excursions were group social outings that combined pious acts with sightseeing, which provided pilgrims with a disruption from the tedium and restraint of quotidian life.

“Pragmatic Map”

After reviewing all the information written here thus far, it makes sense that Dr. Okawa would suggest that this is a “pragmatic map,” because it is.


Legend from left to right: Cities & towns, X , Ferries, Checkpoints/Lodging, Rural Roads, Main Roads, Pilgrimage Route, Castle Towns?, Province, and Shinto Shrines.


The main pilgrimage route that connects #1 Seiganto-ji 「青岸渡寺」to Ise Jingu. Displayed are the Ri distance markers, checkpoints/lodging, and physical descriptions of the route such as rivers and hills.

At first glance, judging by the title of the map and its purpose, it appears to be a simple map of the 33 temples, but it actually displays much more. Although Seiganto-ji is the 1st temple on the route, the route actually begins at Ise if one were to look closely at the route and its colouration. This means Ōsakaya Chōzaburō made this map not only for Buddhist pilgrims but secular pilgrims aswell. Pilgrims looking forward to undertake the Shikoku 88 pilgrimage or just visit Shikoku island are also provided with details as to where and how to catch a boat there.


The Island of Shikoku, showing a Shinto Shrine landmark, two castles, the 4 regions of the isle, and the boat route from Osaka.

The map does display interesting tidbits in finer detail, some that is useful and some that is not for the average pilgrim. In locating Himeji just above Shikoku, I noticed some fine print showing a Tenjin (天神) shrine, the Shinto kami of scholarship, the deification of a scholar, poet, and politician named Sugawara no Michizane, and information on how much the domain is worth in Koku [石, bushels of rice].


In fine print, we can make out the town of Himeji written as ひめぢ, strangely without an indicator that it’s a castle town. The domain is also rated at 150,000 Koku [十五万石]which is accurate according to historical data.


As Japan moved forward in the 18th and 19th century, so too did people’s aspirations and beliefs. As a by-product of these aspirations and beliefs, economies, civic infrastructure, religion, and private entrepreneurship flourished like never before, giving rise to one of the most sophisticated societies of its time. This map reflects that, as it guides secular and non-secular pilgrims around the region with reasonable accuracy and detail, remarkable for private maps produced at this scale and quality. Big enough to display the relevant information pertaining to the pilgrimage route, near-by towns, and landmarks, yet portable and cheap enough to be bought by passing or starting pilgrims at Kokawa-dera. It’s fascinating that researching this map some 200 years later would reveal so much details about the pilgrims, the pilgrimage route, the creator, and the state of Edo travel.

I would like to give thanks and acknowledgement to UBC – Rare books and Special Collections for obtaining and housing the Tokugawa maps; Professor Christina Laffin for hosting ASIA 453, the opportunity to conduct this research, and guidance in researching the maps; Dr. Eiji Okawa for helping me read and understand the map; and Professor Mari Fujita for her informative lecture on cartography.



Asahi.Net. “Kinki Region, Himeji”

Bohner, Alfred. Two on a Pilgrimage: The 88 Holy Places of Shikoku. Trans., Katherine Merrill. Ed. Moreton, David C., Outlook, Germany. 2011

Davis, Winston. Japanese Religion and Society: Paradigms of Structure and Change.
State University of New York, NY, 1992
Fujita Mari. “Cartography.” Lecture, University of British Columbia, 1 March, 2017
Hall, John Whitney., The Cambridge History of Japan: Volume 4, Early Modern Japan.
Cambridge University Press, NY, 1991.
Kasahara, Kazuo. Ed. A History of Japanese Religion. Trans., Paul McCarthy & Gaynor Sekimori
Kosei Publishing, Tokyo, 2001.
Okawa, Eiji. “Saikoku Pilgrimage.” Interview, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. 15 March, 2017
Reader, Ian. Making Pilgrimages: Meaning and Practice in Shikoku

University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 2005.

Totman, Conrad. Early Modern Japan
University of California Press, 1993

Kan’in Dairi Keijō zu

The map shown above is titled Kan’in Dairi Keijō zu (閑院内裏京城図) or also known as Bird’s- eye view of Kyoto. This map is a part of UBC’s Rare Books and Special Collection’s. It is a map that is categorized under Japanese Maps of the Tokugawa Era. However, the original map dates back to the Kamakura period around 1200, and was formerly owned by Bunkyūdō (文求堂). Interestingly, the original map was destroyed in a fire and someone made a replica before it was destroyed. It was reproduced in 1892 which is the 25th year of the Meiji era. Which can been seen stated on the map.


If I am correct, it states that it was entrusted to Tanaka(田中) and Bunkyūdō (文求堂) has… well now had possession of it. As mentioned before it was reproduced during the 25th year of the Meiji era which is 1892. For some reason it specially states that it was being copied before or during sunrise. I just find this piece of information interesting.




Moreover, UBC does not even own the “replica” of the map, but a mere copy of the copied map. UBC’s copy is not even a physical copy, but rather it is a slide which one can go to UBC’s Rare Books and Special Collection’s to view. This makes me wonder how valuable and what was so important about this map. The physical copy of the map’s whereabouts is unknown. Since there is too much to cover, here I will be introducing some of the aspects about the temples and shrines that are present in this map of Kyoto.

To indicate what are shrines, temples or places of worship are, simply look for these characters (堂/神社/寺), which are pronounced (dō/jinjya/dera or ji ). However, it is not to say that (堂)(dō) always indicates a place of worship as it sometimes means hall or it is attached to names of stores and businesses.

The abundance of shrines and temples started to exist when Buddhism entered Japan. Many people of power sought out to legitimized their right of power through religion. Many emperors throughout the centuries, built them. By giving tribute to the deities, emperors hoped that they will protect them and bring prosperity to the land. With the continuous construction of temples and shrines, this created micro-cities that centered around shrines and temples.1 For nobles that no longer serve the state they were able to have influence through private matters from their wealth. By viewing the map one can see that most of the temples and shrines are not built within the city, but rather outside the capital. Stravos suggest that there is no evidence that suggests why there was a taboo that temples and shrines would not and could not be built within city grounds.2 However, some taboos that come to mind are, building within the city may threaten the current power. Building in the outskirts, both the current power and nobleman may be at peace as no ones’ powers are a threat and also poses a balance from an aesthetic point of view.

One would think that since Kyoto is a city that has a high density of religious establishments such as shrines and temples. Pilgrims would flock to Kyoto for their pilgrimages, instead of going else where as this way the pilgrims are able make a plan and go to each desired place of worship accordingly to whom they wish to pay tribute to. However, as Stravos mentioned with the creation of micro-cities, would some of these places where temples and shrines exist be private quarters and off limits to the public and only the few selected be allowed access? For many, they would go to one of the most famous temples which is the Kiyomizu dera (清水寺). Pilgrims journey here “to pray to its icon, faith in whom has cultivated the thriving businesses”.3

Aside from nobility being able to enjoy them, commoners also came to Kyoto to see the temples and shrines. As it attracted many people to honour and pay tribute to the deities. One pilgrimage that became popular is called the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage (西国三十三所). This pilgrimage is strictly only to visit Buddhist temples. This pilgrimage only covers the Kansai region. Several temples in Kyoto are a part of this journey. However, the only temple visible in this map that is included in the pilgrimage is the Kiyomizu dera. The Kiyomizu dera is number 16 on the journey. The creation of this pilgrimage is credited to emperor Kazan (968-1008) as he was credited as the founder in the Chikkyo seiji and tenin goroku. This pilgrimage was originally done austerity. A plain, and simple journey, which eventually turned into a popular devotion done by many people.4 With the popularity of the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage, a condensed version was made for the city of Kyoto.5

After a long journey, pilgrims are able to obtain proof of pilgrimage. Proof of pilgrims can be found in forms of old name slips, Senjya fuda (千社札).6 Senjya fuda, name slips were mainly posted on gates or entrances of the shine or temple. Even now many people try to journey through this pilgrimage. People now perhaps may not walk and instead take transportation such as subways, trains, cars etc. People that journey through in present day collect temple stamps, shuin (朱印) in booklets called nokyocho (納経帳) as proof of visit instead of Senjya fuda. It changed from Senjya fuda to Shuin because, “In 1871 the government issued a decree for the protection of antiquities and ordered the prefectures to submit inventories of suitable objects.”7 . However, this was just the start. Eventually, a law called koshaji hozonoho, or ‘Law for the Preservation of Old Shrines and Temples’ was promulgated on 5 June 1897 (Law Number 49) in order to protect religious buildings and the works of art they contained.”8 The Senjya fuda was seen as damaging historical properties.

Another important place of worship in Kyoto is a shrine called Gionjinja (祇園神社), Which is now known as Yasakajinja (八坂神社). This shrine has been associated with the festival called the Gion Festival (祇園祭 Gion Matsuri). It has been said that every year of the 6th month which is present day July, for the whole month festivities are done as purification. This ceremony is named Goryōe. Chapin states that Goryōe is a “phallic worship…. and the long poles know as “hoko,” or “spears,”” are symbols of phallicism.9 Chapin continues to state that, it is believed that phallic images exorcised evil influences and life threatening causes. “What brings life to is not unnaturally suppose to have power over death” and the festival started in the endeavour to get rid of a plague.10 As to why the Gion jinja was chosen, it is because the Bull-headed King is worshiped at this shrine. This Bull-headed Kings is believed to associated with phallic gods. Hence, Goin jinja was chosen as it was believed that phallic worship helped stopped the spread of epidemics.

Although little is known about medieval Kyoto, this map has given us an insight on why and how there are many inclosed areas, “micro-cities” in Kyoto. As there are proof that commoners came to pay tribute, how many were actually accessible to the public is unknown. What is for sure is the importance of Kiyomizudera and Gionjinja. Over and over these two places of warship are seen depicted in Rakuchu rakugai zu, (Scenes in and around the Capital). The two places of worship may have been seen as a places that protect the capital from evil spirits and purification. However, we will save this for another time.



1Stavros,Matthew. Kyoto: An Urban History of Japan’s Premodern Capital. (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2014), 61.

2Ibid., 62.

3McKelway, Matthew P. . Capitalscapes. (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2006), 53.

4MacWilliams, Mark. “Buddhist Pilgrim/Buddhist Exile: Old and New Images of Retired Emperor Kazan in the Saigoku Kannon Temple Guidebooks.” History of Religions 34, no. 4 (1995): 303.

5Winfield, Pamela D.. “Kyoto Pilgrimage Past and Present.” CrossCurrents 59, no.3 (2009): 353.

6See note 6 Above.

7Henrichsen, Christoph. “Historical outline of conservation legislation in Japan.” Horzon Architectural and Urban Conservation in Japan. Ed. Enders, Siegfried RCT, and Gutschow Niels. Sungnam: Daehan Printing and Publishing Co.,Ltd., 1998. 12.

8Coaldrake, William Howard. “Building the Meiji State: The Western Architectural Hirearchy.” Architecture and Authority in Japan. New York; Routledge. 1996. 248.

9Chapin, Helen B. “The Gion Shrine and the Gion Festival.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 54, no. 3 (1934): 285.

10See note 9 above.



Chapin, Helen B. “The Gion Shrine and the Gion Festival.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 54, no. 3 (1934): 282-89.

Coaldrake, William Howard. “Building the Meiji State: The Western Architectural Hirearchy.” 208-250. Architecture and Authority in Japan. New York; Routledge. 1996.

Henrichsen, Christoph. “Historical outline of conservation legislation in Japan.” Horzon Architectural and Urban Conservation in Japan, 12-21. Edited by Enders, Siegfried RCT, and Gutschow Niels. Sungnam: Daehan Printing and Publishing Co.,Ltd., 1998.

MacWilliams, Mark. “Buddhist Pilgrim/Buddhist Exile: Old and New Images of Retired Emperor Kazan in the Saigoku Kannon Temple Guidebooks.” History of Religions 34, no. 4 (1995): 303-28.

McKelway, Matthew P. . Capitalscapes. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2006

Stavros, Matthew. Kyoto: An Urban History of Japan’s Premodern Capital. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2014.

Winfield, Pamela D.. “Kyoto Pilgrimage Past and Present.” CrossCurrents 59, no.3 (2009): 349–357.

Fujisan no zu

Introduce Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji is also known as Fujiyama, Fuji-YoNama andFujisan. It is a cone-shaped volcanic mountain. Its last eruption happened in 1707. Mount Fuji is 12,388 feet, and it is the highest mountain in Japan. Mount Fuji as tall as the cloud. The top of the Mount is always full of snow. Mount Fuji is the most sacred mountain. Mount Fuji is located on the island of Honshu. (Whalen,2) Mount Fuji is the most famous mountain in Japan. Mount Fuji added to the World Heritage Site in 2013. Mount Fuji is pilgrim place, and there are many literary works base on Mount Fuji. Therefore Mount Fuji is the representative of Japan, and it is very sacred.

Literary works based on the Mount Fuji

During Japanese era 713, Japanese starts to write fudoki (風土記)that report provincial geography, culture, agriculture.Etc. There is one fodoki called “Hitachi no Kuni Fudoki (常陸国風土記) “has recorded a story about Mount Fuji. There is a deity of heaven travel all around Japan. The deity visits Mount Fuji first. Mount Fuji refuses deity’s request to stay in Mount Fuji overnight because Mount Fuji believes that it does not need deity’s blessing. Mount Fuji already has the perfect shape and the high peak. Then, the deity visits the Mount Tsukuba inside the Hitachi province. Mount Tsukuba lets deity stay and offering food humbly. As a result, Mount Fuji always has snow covering the peak, and it is always cold. On the other hand, Mount Tsukuba is very colorful with the season changing.
Later, there are many legends about Mount Fuji come out. In the 10th-century Japanese fiction prose narrative called “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter(竹取物語)”. The book talks about a bamboo cutter called Taketori no Okina finds a little girl inside the bamboo when he is cutting the bamboo. Taketori no Okina brings the little girl home. Taketori no Okina and his wife treat the little girl as their own daughter and name her Kaguya-hime which means “princess of flexible bamboos scattering light”. Three months later, the little girl grows up and the news of her beauty spread. Therefore, many young men come to Taketori no Okina and ask for marry Kaguya-hime. The emperor also become one of the men ask for marry Kaguya- hime. However, Kaguya-hime refuses all of them. Kaguya-hime is the fairy of the moon. And she has to go back to the moon on the August 15th in the third year. Before Kaguya-hime returns to the moon. Kaguya-hime leaves elixir of immortality for her parents. Taketori no Okina does not live forever without his daughter. Taketori no Okina hands the elixir of immortality to the emperor. The emperor burns the elixir of immortality and the letter on the peak of the highest mountain. Therefore, the word immortality, Fushi不死(never dead) became the name of the mountain – Mount Fuji. Therefore, Japanese solider will have the figure of Mount Fuji on their clothes. They believe that Mount Fuji means Fushi.

The religion based on Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji used to be treated as a sacred mountain, because of the volcanic eruption. People believe that Mount Fuji has the power of fire and water. (Earhart)
First, Mountain valued more because it is suitable for Buddhism practice. Around six century C.E. Japanese get influence from Chinese religion. During that time, Buddhism is the main religion in China. Taoist notions and Confucian ideas are also popular. Therefore, people believe that the best place for meditation is a flat area deep in the mountains base on the Buddhism sutra.(Earhart). So, the mountain has more meaning.
Second, because there are building and rites are located on the mountain peak and mountainside. Therefore, climbing mountain is also a religious practice. For example, the Fuji pilgrimages. (Earhart). Mount. Fuji uses to be a sacred place that people can only look at but not able to climb because of the volcanic eruption. Later, climbing Mount Fuji has become a religious practice. The pilgrimage route to the summit of Mount Fuji has been establish on the fourteenth century. There are two cultic related to Mount Fuji: fire rituals and climbing the mountain.

The Fuji-ko (富士講) performs fire ceremonies before people climbing the mountain, and burn the mini straw replicas Mount Fuji. (Brockman, 355) Just like the picture below on the left side. During Edo period, some people might live too far away from Mount Fuji. They cannot afford to go to Mount Fuji, and women are not allowed to climb Mount Fuji. Therefore, people contribute a mini Mount Fuji on the direction of Mount Fuji so that they can pray to the mini Mount Fuji. (Brockman,355).
“Pilgrims starts at a shrine at the base of the mountain. Each of the routes has ten rest station…the most popular route has ninety-nine switchbacks.” (Brockman, 355). The six people on the right-hand side of the picture are the people who are climbing the mountain.

Third, these later develop to express the mixture of tradition. (Earhart).
The key point of all the legend about Mount Fuji is Asama Shrine (浅間神社).”In Kakugyo’s time, the two chief religious institutions devoted to Mt. Fuji were the Fuji Sengen (or Asama) Shrine 富士浅間神社.”(Tyler,252). Asama Shrine still has 1300 branches nowadays. Therefore Asama shrine still have a large influence in Japan as we can see from the number. During Edo period, there are many religions base on Mount Fuji. These religions are the new religions that mix Shintoism and Buddhism. During this time, Assma Shrine also becomes a “bodhisattva” in Assma. Mount Fuji is very important in religions believes at that time. (Earhart)

“Fuji ascetic Kakugyo 角行 (書行藤佛)(1541- 1646), the founder of the Edo- period (1600-1868) cult of Mt. Fuji.” (Tyler, 252). During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, society and religion are mixed together because of the warring state. “ The central message and key leader of Fuji religiosity came not from Murayama and its professional Shugendo priests but from the ranks of the common people – a wandering practitioner named Kakugyo.” (Earhart). Kakugyo Tobustu Ku is the right-hand side figure of the two mountain ascetics featured on the map. The name Kakugyo Tobustu Ku is meaningful. Kaku means “square”, Gyo means “practice” , To can be read as “fuji”, Butsu is the name of the Buddhism and Ku means honor. Therefore, the name Kakugyo Tobutsu Ku means square, fuji, practice buddha and honor.

Kakugyo Tobustu Ku has two great disciples. One is Jikigyo Miroku 食行身禄 (1671-1733)and Murakami Kosei 村上光清 (1682-1759. These two people are great sixth-generation successors that turned the cult into a mass movement. (Tyler, 253). Jikigyo Miroku is the figure above that on the left side. Miroku means Maitreya 弥勒 in Buddhism which is the Buddha who is to come. Jikigyo Miroku gets the name Miroku 身禄 from Fuji deity directly (Tyler,261). Jikigyo Miroku’s death launched the Fuji cult as a mass movement. Jikigyo fasted to death on the height of Mt.Fuji. Jikigyo Miroku uses his death to feed the world. (Tyler, 261)

During that time, Japan has many religion bases on the nature worship. The religion base on the nature worship still has influence till now. All these worship and religions are the people want to have some supernatural that can help their life, make their dream come true by using a fantasy way. That is the original Japanese religions. It related to Earhart has mentioned: “ At Fuji, as is true within all of the Japanese religion, power- even destructive force – may be venerated as well as feared, worshiped at the same time as it is pacified. “ (Asasm shirne)

In conclusion, the religion base on Mount Fuji is a mixture of Shintoism, Buddhism, Taoism and some folk belief. All these elements reflect that the relationship between Mount Fuji and Japanese.

1.Whalen, Ken. Fuji, Mount. Sage Knowledge, 2017, Access Mar 26, 2017.
2.Earhart, Byron. Mount Fuji: Icon of Japan. The University of South Carolina Press, 2011.
3.Brockman,Norbert C. Encyclopedia of sacred places. 2011.
4. Tyler Royall, The Book of the Great Practice: The Life of the Mt. Fuji Ascetic Kakugyō Tōbutsu Kū. Nanzan University, 1993.

Three Maps of Ōsaka

Ōsaka is a city on Japan’s southern coast. Since antiquity, it has been an important port on the island of Honshū, serving as the center for commercial activities during the Edo period (1600-1868). This post will discuss Ōsaka in two sections, the first discussing Ōsakan history prior to the Edo period and the second looking at three maps Ōsaka – from 1691, 1854, and 1902 – and the transformations evident therein.

Ōsaka Before the Edo Period

Ōsaka’s history stretches back to Japan’s ancient period, having appeared in the Nihon shoki (c. 720 C.E.). According to legendary history, Jinmu – the mythic first emperor of Japan – first stepped foot on the island of Honshū when he landed upon the shores of what is now known as Ōsaka Bay in the 7th century B.C.E. The emperor and his divine forces would proceed to conquer the Ōsaka plain and establish it as the homeland of the Yamato family, the ancestral name of the Imperial House of Japan.

While the above account is entirely mythological, it demonstrates Ōsaka’s importance to early Japan. From the formation of the Japanese state in the 6th century C.E. until the movement of the capital to Kamakura in 1185, Japanese society was centered in the region around Ōsaka, at that time known as Naniwa (難波), literally ‘dangerous waves.’ The city itself would serve as the capital very early on, later becoming an important port during the Nara (710-794) and early Heian (794-1185) periods as the primary site for foreign trade and departure point for envoys to China.

The Heian court would stop sending such envoys in the 10th century, giving way to a period of decline for the city that would last several hundred years. Later, warfare during the Nanboku-chō period (1336-1392) would destroy virtually the entire city as the competing northern and southern courts fought with one another. The city would remain in this state of decay during the early Sengoku period (1467-1600) until the 16th century, with the construction of Ishiyama Hongan-ji, a temple which served as the headquarters of the True Pure Land sect of Buddhism.

Ishiyama Hongan-ji would grow into a massive complex of eight towns, returning Naniwa, now known as Ōsaka, to its former glory. The temple itself was an impenetrable fortress highly valued for its strategic location and powerful enough to control the surrounding provinces. By 1570, the area was a vibrant center for religion and commerce. However, all of these factors made it a prime target for Oda Nobunaga, who was attempting to unify Japan under his leadership at the time.

Nobunaga would initiate a siege of Ishiyama Hongan-ji in 1569. The temple was so well protected, however, that it would take a full 11 years before the temple’s head priest would surrender the fortress in 1580. Nobunaga would then destroy the temple, asserting control over all of Ōsaka and its surrounding region.

2 years later, after Nobunaga’s death, Toyotomi Hideyoshi would take up the mantle as Japan’s unifier and make Ōsaka his capital. On the site of the former Ishiyama Hongan-ji, Hideyoshi would begin construction of Ōsaka Castle in 1583, completing it in a mere two years with the use of several tens of thousands of laborers. Hideyoshi would also see to the construction of a brand new city around the castle, digging a series of canals to enable the movement of building materials into the city.

Hideyoshi’s efforts would lay the foundations of modern Ōsaka. While the capital would be moved to Edo by Tokugawa Ieyasu after his death, the structures erected by Hideyoshi would remain. This included the castle, within which Ieyasu would station family members in order to assure the subjugation of the city. During the ensuing Edo period (1600-1868), Ōsaka would go on to become the second most important city in Japan, serving as the commercial center of the country.

Ōsaka’s role as Japan’s merchant city was reinforced through official policy. During the Edo period, all rice throughout the whole of the country was required to be sent to Ōsaka before being redistributed. This made it a vibrant city for business and gave rise to its moniker as “the kitchen of the nation” (天下の台所 tenka no daidokoro). Despite this, merchants were still considered to be at the bottom of the Confucian hierarchy put in place by the ruling samurai. Over time, this social distinction gave rise to a unique Ōsakan mercantile culture which separated the city from Edo, its eastern rival.

Shinsen zōho Ōsaka ōezu (1691)


Kaei kaisei bunken Ōsaka zu (1854)


Saikin jissoku Ōsaka-shi shinchizu (1902)


These three maps show the city of Ōsaka at three very different points in history. By comparing them to one another, we can gain a glimpse of multiple changes which occurred not only with the city itself, but more broadly across the country as a whole. These changes are not only evident in the physical transformation of Ōsaka as an urban space, but also in the information that is presented on the maps and conventions utilized in representing that information.

The first map, Shinsen zōho Ōsaka ōezu, was completed by Hayashi Yoshinaga in 1691, the 4th year of the Genroku era (1688-1704). Genroku was an especially vibrant era, marked by tremendous economic growth and a flourishing in the arts, and often being considered a ‘golden age’ for the Tokugawa bakufu. The map is a plan of Ōsaka, likely having been used for administrative purposes, and shows the subdivisions (chōme, today written 丁目 but written in the Edo period as 丁メ) of the city. It is oriented to the east in order to show city’s castle at the top of the map, a common convention in Edo period maps of large Japanese cities.

The second map, Kaei kaisei bunken Ōsaka zu, is an 1854 woodblock print by Morikawa Hōbyakudō. Much like the first map, Morikawa’s was also completed at a time of great transformation for Japan, the so-called ‘black ships’ from America having arrived on Japanese shores and forced the country to open itself to trade only one year prior. It also follows roughly the same format as Hayashi’s map, showing the city’s subdivisions and being oriented to the east.

Saikin jissoku Ōsaka-shi shinchizu, the third map, represents a great departure from the style of the previous two maps. Completed in 1902, the map dates from the latter portion of the Meiji period (1868-1912) and reflects the innumerable cultural, political, and economic changes which occurred in this time. Like the previous two maps, it appears to have had an administrative purpose, showing many fine details in the city’s planning. Unlike them, however, it is oriented to the north, reflecting the tremendous influence of western mapping conventions on post-Meiji Restoration maps. Additionally, it covers a larger portion of the city (reflecting urban growth), and includes two inset maps of the neighboring city of Sakai (which borders Ōsaka to the south) and nearby port of Kōbe (on the northern shore of the Ōsaka bay). The name of the map includes the phrase saikin jissoku (最近實測), meaning ‘recent and accurately measured,’ which emphasizes the use of new survey techniques that had arrived in Japan during the Meiji era with western geodetic science.

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Above: the maps cropped and with orientation adjusted for the sake of comparison; the location of Ōsaka castle is static in each image on the right-hand side

The transformation of the city as a physical space from 1691-1902 is perhaps most evident in the Tenpōzan region of the city. Nowhere to be seen in the map from 1691, Tenpōzan is small artificial island just off the coast of the city. The island was built between the years 1830 and 1844 as part of a large-scale dredging of the Aji River’s mouth intended to allow larger boats to enter the river. Soil from the river’s bed was piled to form the island. On the new island, a lighthouse was built which was a notable landmark for travelers to Ōsaka, being the first sight one would see upon entering the city by boat.

1691 Map2 copy
The future site of Tenpōzan at the mouth of the Aji River in 1691
1854 map2 copy
Tenpōzan in 1854; note the outlined image of the lighthouse

In 1855, as a response to the arrival of Commodore Perry’s ‘black ships,’ the southern side of Tenpōzan was converted into a daiba, or artillery battery. Such daiba were constructed throughout Japan, from the southernmost regions of Kyūshū to the frontier of Hokkaido. They were intended to help defend Japanese shores from the immense firepower of western ships. The most famous of these is of course the Tōkyō daiba, which has been converted into a popular entertainment district and is now simply referred to as Odaiba. Similarly Tenpōzan today is the site of a ferris wheel and city’s massive aquarium Kaiyūkan.

1902 map2 copy
Tenpōzan in 1902, now converted into an artillery battery

Also of note is the inclusion of Kōbe in the 1902 map. Its exclusion in the previous two maps is not merely the result of decisions by the cartographers; the city quite literally did not exist in 1691 or 1854. A small fishing village for most of the Edo period, the city was created in 1858 as a foreign settlement and commercial port for western traders. The shogunate specifically chose the location of Kōbe for this purpose due to both its proximity to and distance from Ōsaka – its closeness meant that goods could easily be brought to the city’s capital of commerce, while the distance meant that foreigners would have minimal contact with native Japanese people. The settlement was even run by foreigners.

Kōbe, as it appeared in 1902

From the outset, Kōbe had an important relationship with Ōsaka. This relationship was further emphasized in 1874 with the completion of the first railway in the Kansai region which connected the two cities. Since, multiple additional railways between Ōsaka and Kōbe have been opened by several different companies. The two cities have come to be so closely related to one another that the term ‘Hanshin’ (阪神) has come to refer to the metropolitan region of both cities collectively, even lending its name to the local professional baseball team: the Hanshin Tigers.


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McClain, James L. and Wakita Osamu. “Osaka Across the Ages.” In Osaka: The Merchants’ Capital of Early Modern Japan, pp. 1-21. James L. McClain and Wakita Osamu, eds. Ithaca: Cornell, 1999.

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Wigen, Kären, Sugimoto Fumiko, and Cary Karacas. Cartographic Japan: A History in Maps. Chicago: U. of Chicago Press, 2016.

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