Osaka, the Merchant's Capital of Early Modern Japan

By James L. McClain; Wakita Osamu | Go to book overview

C H A P T E R S E V E N
Osaka's Brotherhood
of Mendicant Monks

Yoshida Nobuyuki

TRANSLATED BY AKIO YASUHARA

Several miles north of Kyoto looms the silhouette of famous, mysterious Mount Kurama.Written today with the ideographs that mean Saddle Horse Mountain, the name Kurama derived originally from the word kurayami, which implies a place of darkness and secrecy, a locale where the customary norms of behavior hover in suspension.The image is fitting, for since ancient times people have venerated the slopes of Mount Kurama as the home to an amazing variety of wizards, sorcerers, and assorted mountain spirits.Few historians would forget that Kurama was where the popular hero Minamoto no Yoshitsune supposedly learned sophisticated techniques of swordplay and unarmed combat from a friendly tengu, one of the half-human, half-bird avatars of Japanese folklore who often protected innocents against evil.Later, when Yoshitsune descended Mount Kurama, he easily defeated the marauding warrior monk Benkei at the bridge in Kyoto where Gojō Avenue crossed the Kamo River.Overawed, Benkei vowed to become the virtuous Yoshitsune's loyal retainer, thus forming perhaps the most famous warrior duo of Japanese mythohistory.

Also dotting the slopes of Mount Kurama is an assemblage of chapels, monasteries, abbeys, and retreats known collectively as Kuramadera, the temple Kurama.Originally established in the eighth century and affiliated with several different Buddhist sects over the centuries, Kuramadera has won lasting esteem for its enshrinement of the deity Bishamon.The faithful have revered that divinity as one of four powerful gods who stand guard at the cardinal directions, protecting temples and associated lay communities from the depravities of hostile invading spirits. Since Bishamon bears responsibility for defending the northern quadrant, it is not surprising that he should be found at Mount Kurama, whose shadows overreach the passes and roadways that

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