A Pilgrim's Kimono: Stamps, Wear and Faith

$545.00 USD

early twentieth century
52" x 47", 132 cm x 119.5 cm

This is a completely hand stitched kimono made of undyed, hand spun, thickly hand woven cotton which is studded with beautiful black and red stamps of different sizes.

It is the type of garment worn by the practitioners of Shugendo, a syncretic religion based in ancient, mystical folk practices that includes elements of mountain worship, Shinto, Taoism and esoteric Buddhism.

Those who practice Shugendo put themselves through physically arduous training practices that include all sorts of austerities in nature, such as meditating under waterfalls and tirelessly--and using superhuman physical exertion--encircling sacred mountains on foot. 

This particular garment was worn by someone who was engaged in the worship of Ontake san, a mountainous volcano held in great esteem and worshipped by the practitioners of Shugendo, the mountain is depicted on the back of this garment in the form of black stamps.

A marvelously detailed report on the worship practices around Ontake san can be seen on this website and which is quote from here:

Shugendo has been practiced on Mt Ontake for centuries. It is a highly syncretic and ancient religion that originated in Japan. Shugendo practices and teachings draw on Shinto, Esoteric Buddhism, Taoism and shamanism, and the rituals incorporate both godai (the five Buddhist elements) and gogyo (the five Chinese elements). Nature and the elements are a fundamental part of the religion and way of life of the practitioners who seek spiritual power and enlightenment through ascetic training in the mountains.

...until the late 1700s, Mt Ontake was the exclusive reserve of Shugendo ascetics who undertook severe austerities before their annual pilgrimage.  Around this time two ascetics – Kakumei and Fukan – opened pilgrimage paths on Mt Ontake. These are referred to as the Kurosawa and Otaki routes, respectively. By opening access for lay people to Ontakesan the nature of worship changed, leading to the formation of numerous and widespread pilgrim groups (kou). Fukan was a great Shugendo master and has special significance for Wani-ontakesan. The Mt Ontake faith they practice differs from Ontakekyo, a Shinto sect with which other pilgrim groups are associated.

As is fairly obvious, the symbols and amulets pressed as stamps into the body of this garment are magical and are meant to imbue the coat with spiritual association to the object of veneration. We also see red stamps among the black ones which indicate that a pilgrimage route was followed, each stop on it a red seal was granted as a way of marking progress along the route.

Of course this piece is well-worn and shows ingrained dirt from wear; these are traces of the austerities performed by the person who wore this garment and, as such, give the coat a sense of the special history it has both witnessed and participated in.