Last week, I took the two hour local train from Shinagawa up to Honjo, Saitama to check out an annual festival at the Fukan Reijo (literally, the “numinous site of Fukan”). Fukan was an eighteenth century ascetic who is said to have “opened up the mountain” (開闢) of Ontake. Before this, the mountain had guarded by local ascetics who only climbed it after long periods of seclusion. Through a sudden possession by the Great Avatar Zao (大権現座王) while on Ontake, Fukan was able to climb to the summit, thereby opening it to ordinary people afterwards.
Today, various confraternities (講) based mainly in the prefectures of Saitama and Gunma continue to gather at the Great Spring Festival and other smaller events to pray to Fukan for immediate benefits (現世利益) like the prevention or healing of disease, financial concerns, etc.
Numerous confraternities participate in the festival and each has a specific role to fulfill for the larger program of events. The rituals are largely based on shugen practices dating back to at least the Edo period (1600-1868). They comprise a mix of divination rituals, invitations to deities to enter the ritual space, and ‘extreme’ (in X Games parlance) events traditionally intended to showcase special powers acquired by the ascetics involved.
The festival will be divided into two blog posts: this one will cover the preparations and rituals leading up to the shugen event of saito goma 採燈護摩; and the next will cover the saito goma and events after. Also, special thanks to my advisor, Suzuki Masataka (Professor of Social Sciences at Keio Daigaku) for painstakingly answering questions I had regarding these pictures.