Monday, 13 May 2013

Mount Takao and the Spider Spirit


Mount Takao was supposed to be a sort of, short day trip away from the hustle of bustle of central city living which was to be honest, getting to me. Despite loving London and living there for many years a few months of living in the middle of nowhere in Arenal, Costa Rica and a few months of British countryside have turned me into a country girl. However things didn't go to plan...


My boyfriend, being the much more experienced hiker, I told him I'd meet him at the top as I needed to go at a slower pace. Somehow along the way we lost eachother. Cue me going up and down two different trails up to the top of the Mount and being escorted down by a group of friendly Dutch tourists who took pity on the worried English girl! I came down the mountain to find Robert was about to alert emergency services! It didn't help that the rain really started coming down! At least for the bits where neither of us was panicking we took some good photos. 





 After a little research it would appear that these guys in the red hats are Jizo Bosatsu, a guardian of travellers, motherhood and children. They are dressed in bibs in red as these statues are linked to unborn children or children who have fought off a disease; red is traditionally (in both Buddhism and Shinto) a colour that expels demons and illness. 


Now I regonise this belt as something very similar to a sumo belt. However the same zigzag shape often hangs from gates into shrines...

see? After some digging around on Sumo sites I found that they are called Shimenawa. They indicate that you are entering a sacred place. They are tied around objects, like that tree, that are called yorishiro. This means that the object either attracts kami (important Shinto spirits) or is inhabited by them. I was right in that Sumo wrestlers to do in fact where these belts but only the highest ranking ones as they too are considered yorishiro. Wrestlers with kami within them!



This is a yokai, and my current favourite thing about learning about Japanese religions and customs. So yokai are supernatural beings. Some are nasty, and some are just cheeky and nearly all of them are a part of traditional Japanese folk lore. This is a very important yokai, who actually is sometimes considered a kami and is often featured as a guardian of Buddhist shrines, (yes Buddhist, I'm learning to get my head around how intertwined Shinto and Buddhism are here)this is a Tengu (possibly an important one called Naigubu but there are a lot of statues of tengu on Mount Takao). Tengu are part bird but have become humanised over the years to have a large nose. There are supposed to be pretty horrible in some cases but are also fierce protectors of places like forests. I imagine this is one of the reasons the tengu have been placed on Takao.
Since learning about the tengu I'm desperate to find more yokai within shrines. I've definately got one more to share with you but after that it gets a little trickier. Much like searching in the UK for sculptures and landmarks pertaining to folk lore.
 



Kamaji here, better known as the boiler man from Spirited Away is definately based on a kind of yokai that takes the shape of a spider called tsuchigumo or jorogumo.



I know they're probably not the friendliest yokai in history but I think they're interesting, so here's hoping I find something pertaining to them. Hope you found all that interesting as I'm sure to delve into what I've learnt to give me some ideas for some new pieces. 

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