Sangaku-shinko Faith (山岳信仰)

"Sangaku-shinko faith" is a faith worshipping mountains as being sacred. It is a kind of nature worship, and is believed to be a form of religion developing from the feeling of awe towards mountainous areas and its accompanying natural environment and the feeling of being overwhelmed, fear, and respect with the magnificence and harshness of the natural environment that hunters had in their deep relationship with mountains.. They believed that mountainous areas had spiritual powers, and utilized the overwhelming awe of the mountains to bring discipline to their lives.

These faiths are strong in the cultures of inland mountainous regions and a mountains with a terrain almost inaccessible for humans is indispensable for it to emerge.

In areas where such religion forms, life's necessities, including food, clothing, and shelter, are entirely dependent upon the rivers that flow from the mountain and through the forest area at the skirt of the mountain, and they feel blessed by the mountain being constantly in sight. Meanwhile, people with this faith are living in an environment where due to the harsh landscape, slight carelessness can lead to death, and therefore, consider dangerous actions as acts 'offending the mountain' and are religious taboos, and they hand down their knowledge for achieving one's own safety.

Today, with the development of various protective gear for cold weather and climbing, people can survive if they enter areas previously considered unbeatable, but they may deeply offend the feelings of local residents who value the Sangaku-shinko faith. If a climber commits an act considered to offend the mountain, it is believed that the local residents who allowed the climber to enter the mountain unnoticed will be punished by a kind of witchcraft according to folklore, and there are reported cases of large scale festivals held to soothe the mountain.

On the other hand, in regions where the Sangaku-shinko faith exists, people placing too much confidence in modern gear, facing serious danger as a result of reckless acts, or conversely attacking nature due to excessive self-defense, by for instance, bringing in a large amount of goods and leaving the garbage behind, seen here and there, draws a fresh look at the spirituality of the Sangaku-shinko faith, which was cultivated for the purpose of coexisting with nature.

Sangaku-shinko faith in Japan

In Japan, mountains were valued due to economic reasons such as a source of water, hunting grounds, mines, forest, and for geological reasons such as their majestic appearance and volcanoes, and religious services were performed based upon belief since ancient times that mountains are places where divine spirits reside or descend to. Additionally, there is a concept called 'sanjo takai' (in addition to this, there are kaijo takai, chichu takai, etc), which means that the spirits of the dead (ancestral spirit) return to the mountain. These traditions led to Shinto, and gave rise to a trend of faith towards mountains, as in the Suwa Taisha Shrine in Nagano Prefecture and Mt. Miwa in Nara Prefecture. In rural areas, because mountains are a source of water, there are beliefs that god of the mountain descends to the village and becomes the god of the rice fields in spring, and returns to the mountain in fall after the harvest. Although not written by a Japanese, the words 'Over the mountains, too far to travel, people say, happiness dwells' in the poem by Carl BUSSE describing the view of Japanese Sangaku-shinko faith.

In Buddhism, it was believed that there is a high mountain called Mt. Sumeru at the center of the world, and awe for mountains deepened further as Kukai founded a temple on Mt. Koya and Saicho on Mt. Hiei. This is why Buddhist temples are called 'OO Mountain △△ Temple' even if they are on flatlands.

Sacred mountains are also objects of faith in Tibetan Buddhism, but faith is often for the mountain itself, and it is often a taboo to climb such mountains. Meanwhile in Japan, it should be noted that emphasis is placed on reaching the summit. Japanese people definitely have faith for the mountain itself, but tend to greatly appreciate the rising sun viewed from there early in the morning, which may be due to the fact that their object of faith is what lies ahead of (beyond) the summit (the other world). In Japan, Taiyo-shinko faith (sun worshipping) and Sangaku-shinko faith as forms of animism are interconnected.

Later, mountaineering ascetics and mountain priests who were of the school of Esoteric Buddhism and Taoism, detached themselves from this world, and went deep into the mountains and practiced asceticism to achieve enlightenment. This later led to the birth of Shugendo (Japanese mountain asceticism-shamanism incorporating Shinto and Buddhist concepts) and witchcraft religion.

Since Sangaku-shinko faith originally developed from a form of animism faith worshipping nature, it took the form of syncretism of Shinto and Buddhism until the end of Edo period, but since this syncretism was banned under the order for the separation of Buddhism and Shintoism in the Meiji period, temples and shrines, including Dewa-sanzan Mountain, where Shugendo of the Shingon Esoteric Buddhism was strong, were separated, many of the main faith continued in shrines.

While mountains were the object of faith as the divine world, it was also a place where memorial services for the spirit of ancestors, such as spiritualism by itako (shrine maiden performing spiritualism) evolved, as the next world where spirits of the dead gather. Additionally, it is a custom among the people to climb mountains as a sign of faith, and even today, many people climb mountains including those considered sacred grounds.

Regions where the Sangaku-shinko faith exist
Ladakh (India)
Habitats of the followers in general of religions descending from Abraham (Mt. Sinai in the Old Testament, Decalogue)
Korea, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in China (China. Other areas in the country where Manchu people live)