When they went unescorted by a sendatsu, one might think it would be quite problematic for these unversed pilgrims to make their way safely on unfamiliar mountains without maps, but the fact is that the way was well thought-out, the route was always the same, as were the stops for food and lodging, so that they would eventually reach their preacher as long as they followed this routine. Then too, there were at least three signs on each of the guesthouses that clustered around every post station, marking them as the lodgings for various congregations such as the New (一新講), the Original (故信講), the Reverent (崇敬講), the Divine Wind (神風講) and the Kantō Schools (関東講).
|Avenue of cryptomeria trees: woodprint by Yoshida Hiroshi|
As most of these names were used to show that the congregation so identified stayed here, the effect was somewhat provincial. For example, I seem to remember that the Divine Wind congregation came from the shrine of Ise, while the Reverents (Sūkei) were probably worshippers of Kompira. As for the New Congregation (whose name was also written as 一新講社), this was a widespread association of inn-keepers that was probably formed around 1881 or 1882, although I haven’t investigated the matter thoroughly. Anyway, there was at least one guesthouse with its sign at every post station.
|A guide booklet, as issued by the New Congregation to its pilgrims|
When staying at a guesthouse of the New Congregation, the landlord of the first lodgings would give a first-time traveller a booklet of about ten sheets of paper, of 3-5 size (about 9cm x 15cm). The cover was printed with the character for open (開) in white within a red circle, and the characters for the New Congregation (一新講社) below that. The landlord would write his name and stamp his seal in the book and give the traveller a letter of introduction to the next lodgings. Unlike one’s baggage, one would always keep the letter of introduction on one’s person, so that there would be no fear of dropping it or handing it to the wrong person on the way. The letter of introduction would say:-
I’d like to introduce this guest to you; please look after them well during their stay.
This guest stayed with us; when they arrive, please ensure they are well looked after and take good care of them.
Or, sometimes we were given a printed letter from the lodging house we were due to stay in next, and in that case there would be the following additional remarks:
We don’t send out touts. If touts from other lodgings pretend to be travellers and try to do you a favour by speaking ill of us and recommending another lodging house, or if rickshaw men say such things, please don’t listen to them and stay with us.
In this way, one could find the way to one’s destination quite easily, especially when travelling alone, and the letters were extremely valuable as a way of making a booking, as the custom was in the old days. Apart from showing the way between post stations, they had very useful maps to mark the sights and ancient monuments along the way.
|Pages of a pilgrim's booklet, showing route and sketch maps|
Of course, the paper and print quality of these booklets was poor, and the script would sometimes fade, leading to misunderstandings. In the booklet for the Nakasendo route to Kyoto that I got at the Tsutaya in Kiso-Fukushima, it said you could climb Kisokomagatake either from Agematsu or Nezame, and so I changed my plan to climb from Agematsu and saw the splendid sights of Nezame-no-toko before tackling Kisokomagatake on the following day. According to the map, there was a pond on the summit known as Tama-ike, but when I topped out I found only a hut and no pond. Then, when I found Nō-ga-ike, another pond, I thought this must certainly be Tama-ike and wrote it up as such in my account of the journey for my school magazine. Later, I was sorry to see that this passage was quoted, without much alteration, by Professor Yamasaki Naomasa in the Kisokomagake section of his Geography of Greater Japan.
However, after talking about this at the mountain meeting, when I got back to Tokyo, I found another booklet, which happened to have been issue in October, in which I saw that Tama-dake and Nowaka-ike were written side by side. As the characters other than “tama” and “ike” had been effaced in the notebook I originally looked at, it turned out that I’d carelessly confused this Tama-ike with Nō-ga-ike, so that I’m forced to redouble my apologies. However, in fact, it may be that the pond really was called “Nowaka-ike” because the katakanaワdoes not look as if the small stroke on top of that character (which would make it an ウ) had faded. Thus Nowaka-ike must be the correct name, which was later corrupted into Nō-ga-ike. The notebook also writes what seems to be the Kanekake Rock as Kanesashi Rock. So, if the current name is correct, then the notebook is mistaken. Even with the odd mistake like the one noted above, however, the notebooks were much more useful for people who rarely made journeys than today’s 1:200,000-scale maps.
|Style of the well-dressed pilgrim|
(Image courtesy of Kotobank)
Congregations like these were organised everywhere, not just in our village and, when on pilgrimage, the groups were led by experienced leaders. Interestingly, these leaders, the so-called sendatsu, often came from the lowest orders of society, and by some rigorous but unwritten agreement, as soon as a group came together, whether its members were rich or poor, and regardless of social status, every body was on an equal footing and the sendatsu’s word was law, so that to oppose it was unthinkable. Speaking of these arrangements, there could be no question of washing these precious garments, as the pilgrims’ white robes had received the inky stamp of each sacred mountain visited, so that one couldn’t help reeling back in disgust if one ever got into a carriage with them. Even in this age of the train, there must be quite a few people who have felt a bit faint if they’ve had the misfortune to be seated with such people.
The members of the congregation, except for the sendatsu, were allowed to wear their ordinary clothes while travelling to the mountain but, as soon as they reached it, they had to change into what we called gyō’i (行衣) or pilgrim’s garb. Even today you can see such scenes. Although this may be less true of congregations from the countryside, groups from the city tend to be fairly riotous and their sendatsu have lost the authority they used to have. So even if they don’t stink out their fellow passengers, they get on their nerves with their drinking and carousing. This is inevitable, as serious pilgrimages fade away, to be replaced with trips that have the atmosphere of a light-hearted mountain excursion. This is not to say that there wasn’t a pleasure-seeking element even in those mountain pilgrimages of old, once the pilgrims were away from the mountain, but the religious element has now greatly faded, leaving the pleasure-seeking to dominate.