Kunisaki Peninsula, the country of Gods, Buddhas, and Demons

Kunisaki Peninsula

The Japanese word “oni” is often translated as “demon” in English, a horrifying one related to Buddhism.
In Kunisaki, however, oni became popular among locals as they were considered to be incarnations of deities and Buddha. They are deeply connected with local communities and regarded as something akin to ancestral souls. People believed that oni brought them happiness and protected them from harm, and this is why locals admire and respect them.

The Kunisaki Penninsula is home to so much natural beauty and cultural heritage. Rich with history and folklore, it takes us on a journey to the ancient and medieval world. There are many lovingly preserved stone buildings and monuments in Kunisaki, and they provide the historic character and ambiance of the place.

The stony mountains of Kunisaki where oni lives
A long, long time ago, Kunisaki was a remote village far from the imperial capital of Japan, Kyo. Back then, the villagers believed and feared that terrifying oni lived beyond the jagged edge of the stony mountains and huge rocks. The giant cliffs, which were so steep that no one could hope to scale them, had deadly caves where they believed oni lurked.

How were these unusual-looking rock mountains formed?
The mountains of the Kunisaki Peninsula are remnants of volcanic activity that ended around 150 million years ago. Millions of years of erosion wore the rocks down to their current shape.

Oni appears in Shujo onie at temples on the Kunisaki Peninsula
Shujo onie is an annual festival that used to be celebrated at more than twenty temples in the Rokugo Manzan area from the seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth century, but it is now only held at three locations: Tennenji Temple on the west side of the peninsula, Jobutsuji Temple and Iwatoji Temple on the east side. Let’s have a look at what happens at Tennenji Temple on the night of the festival.
A New Year’s festival celebrated at the temple in which people pray for luck, happiness, protection from bad luck and driving out evil spirits. Oni performs a ritual and gives blessings to the audience.

Mineiri: a pilgrimage to the den of oni
In the Medieval period, monks in Kunisaki were so deeply in awe of supernatural forces and vehemence of oni that they considered them as incarnations of deities. To obtain supernatural powers, they head for the mountains to go on a pilgrimage through Daimasyo, where they believed oni lived. This pilgrimage is called Mineiri, which means “entering the mountains.” They began building temples here and there on the Kunisaki Peninsula, which had been feared as the den of oni and no one had dared to go near. Gradually more and more people came to settle in the area, and villages formed.
Mineiri is a long-lasting tradition in Kunisaki. Pilgrims walk mountain trails while chanting Buddhist mantras throughout their journey.

Mumyobashi Bridge in Tennenji Temple Yaba
It is said that, as long as your mind is pure, you won’t fall off from this stone bridge situated high up in the mountains.

The enduring quest of Mineiri, the power of people’s imagination that conceived oni, and their commitment to continue the tradition of Shujo onie: all these are evidence of our ancestors’ lives that has formed our historical and cultural identity.
Kunisaki’s rich and fascinating heritage can be seen not only in temples and statues but also in its nature and landscapes, which impact on and shape people’s lives and lifestyles.

*The first photo is provided by Rokugo Manzan Japan Heritage Promotion Council.

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