Theses Doctoral

Ascesis and Devotion: The Mount Yudono Cult in Early Modern Japan

Castiglioni, Andrea

This dissertation concerns the cult of Mount Yudono (located in present-day Yamagata Prefecture) during the Edo period (1603–1868).
In the first chapter, I take into account the historical background and religious dynamics that led to the formation of the sacred territory of the Three Dewa Mountains (Dewa Sanzan), namely Mount Haguro, Mount Gassan, and Mount Chōkai, of which Mount Yudono was considered to be the shared sancta sanctorum.
The second chapter analyzes the particularities of the religious institutions that administered the territory of Mount Yudono. Specifically, I focus on the pivotal role played by a special group of ascetics that were called “permanent ascetics” (issei gyōnin) in shaping the religious identity and tradition of this mountain.
In the third chapter, I study the structures and meanings of the funerary rituals, which were performed in order to mummify the corpses of eminent issei gyōnin. This section underlines the symbiotic relationship between issei gyōnin and lay devotees, the latter of whom continued venerating the mummified remains of the ascetics and transmitting legends about them to consolidate and expand their religious charisma even after the ascetic’s demise.
The fourth chapter focuses on the foundation stories (engi) about Mount Yudono and the rituals that characterized the pilgrimage toward this mountain. I show how the engi were fundamental tools for instilling devotional discourses and mythical memories about Yudono into large groups of social actors, many of whom visited this sacred territory as pilgrims.
The fifth chapter explores the rich material and visual culture that characterized the cult of Mount Yudono. I underlined the importance of semiotic strategies that played a pivotal role in the ritual transfer of Mount Yudono to other numinous sites. These included the process of “intervisuality” (mitate) and the creation of stelae and sacred mounds (tsuka) in order to expand the devotional discourses associated with this mountain.



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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Faure, Bernard R.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 5, 2015