Select Page

En no Gyōja Yama 役行者山 – The Founder of Shugendō

en no gyoja yama three deity statues demon gion festival kyoto japan

At center is the sacred statue of En no Gyōja, with the goddess Katsuraki on the right and the god Hitokotonushi at left, both appearing as ogres.

En no Gyōja is the semi-legendary 7th-century personage who later came to be considered the “founder” of shugendō, a belief system and ascetic practices undertaken by practitioners known as yamabushi. Still practiced today, its profound philosophy, mystical esteem for nature and rigorous practices have inspired the likes of beat poet Gary Snyder. It’s said that the power generated by En no Gyōja’s ascetic practices gave him powers of healing, of superhuman abilities, and of the ability to command gods, demons and humans. It’s said that he directed the two deities with him at this yama to construct a bridge between two sacred peaks in Nara Prefecture, where yamabushi still practice today.

ennogyoja yama yamabushi fire ceremony gion festival kyoto japan

Yamabushi perform fire rituals at En no Gyōja Yama every year.

Modern-day yamabushi visit this yama every year to pay respects to their founder. See the Yamabushi Yama webpage and my yamabushi blog for more about their tradition and connection with the Gion Festival.

En no Gyōja Yama has an unusually diverse collection of mostly original treasures, including many Chinese tapestries depicting dragons, painted scrolls of the yama throughout the centuries, and even a map of locations of yamaboko throughout history. The latter shows names and locations of yamaboko that no longer exist, comprising a good example of how these valuable artifacts shed light onto the Gion Festival’s past.

ennogyoja yama treasures display gion festival kyoto japan

The En no Gyōja Yama display area is filled with a fascinating and diverse assortment of treasures. Note the blue-green map of present and past yamaboko’s locations.

Buy my book, “Gion Festival: Exploring Its Mysteries,” to learn more about the spectacular Gion Festival than you can anywhere else. Some former directors of Gion Matsuri float associations have told me they believe it’s better than any books available on the Gion Matsuri in Japanese. Free excerpt available here.

Interested in sharing this content? Check out the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License for guidelines on how. This is a cool way to grow a culture of generosity. In Buddhism, generosity is one of the foundational practices of spiritual enlightenment. So it’s worth a try.