A Family Maintaining Its Elevation: Household, Status, and Documentation in Early Modern Shugendō

Date: Tuesday, November 13, 2018
Time: 12:30-1:30 PM
Venue: Asian Centre, Room 604 (1871 West Mall)
By: Dr. Frank Clements

Part of the CJR Lunchtime Lecture Series


Shugendō is a Japanese religious tradition centered around mountain asceticism that incorporates elements of esoteric Buddhism, Daoist immortality beliefs, and the worship of local deities. Its practitioners, called yamabushi or shugenja, engage in austerities within the mountains to achieve bodily enlightenment and acquire supernormal power to benefit lay patrons. The Dewa Sanzan, or the Three Mountains of Dewa, were the focus of northern Japan’s most influential Shugendō tradition, and one of them, Mt. Haguro, was the headquarters for a network of yamabushi that spanned northern and eastern Japan during the medieval and early modern eras. In this lecture, Frank Clements will present research on the Sanada Shichirōzaemon household, an elite lineage of Haguro yamabushi who were crucial to the functioning of the Haguro organization and its community of yamabushiand lay patrons during Japan’s Edo period (1603-1868). The Sanadas employed strategies of document production, exchange, and preservation in order to define and defend their privileged place in Haguro Shugendō’s economic, political, ritual, and social structures. Despite the tradition’s seeming emphasis on mountain austerities, there was far more to the lives of yamabushi than just detached ascetic practice.

About the Speaker:

Frank Clements completed his PhD in East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania in 2016. His research focuses on the Japanese tradition of Shugendō mountain asceticism, which synthesizes esoteric Buddhist practices, Daoist immortality beliefs, and the worship of indigenous deities. More specifically, he concentrates on the activities of households of ascetics affiliated with Mt. Haguro in northern Japan during the Tokugawa and early Meiji periods. His current project explores how these households were embedded in the economic, social, and political contexts of the village community and Haguro’s transregional administrative networks. Elite households used strategies of document production and exchange to develop and defend a household identity that was vital to Haguro Shugendō. His broader research interests include the religious and folk cultures of northern Japan, the relationship between asceticism, magic, and supernatural entities, and the development and structure of sacred mountain-based religious communities across East Asia.