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The Localization of Kumano Gongen Cult and Mountain Worship: 

From ‘Engi’ to ‘Kagura



Suzuki Masataka (Keiō University)


This paper discusses the localization of the Kumano Gongen 熊野権現 cult and its relationship with Japanese mountain worship. It takes into account the development from foundation stories (engi 縁起) to ritual dramas and dances (kagura 神楽). The Kumano area played a pivotal role in creation of religious discourses focused on mountain worship during the ancient and medieval periods. In the mid-Heian period (794-1185), certain Japanese deities (kami ) came to be regarded as gongen, i.e. avatars of Indian buddhas and bodhisattvas. This was part of the “original ground and traces” (honji suijaku 本地垂迹) hermeneutical system. Following the logic of this system, engi narratives described the nature of various deities in different mountainous locations. In this presentation I focus on the Kumano Gongen gosuijaku engi 熊野権現御垂迹縁起 (1163), which is the oldest text to address the origin of Kumano Gongen at Hongū 本宮, being one of the three sacred sites of Kumano.

I develop my analysis through a three-stage process: 1) a comparison of the engi textual strategies about Kumano Gongen as representing centrality and Hikosan Gongen 彦山権現 as representing periphery; 2) an analysis of the representations of nature in connection with the veneration of “fierce deities” such as Kōjin 荒神 and “obstacle deities” such as Shōgeshin 障礙神; 3) an interpretation of the religious significance of the deities defined as “princes” (ōji 王子), such as Kirime no Ōji 切目王子, an messenger of Kumano Gongen, through the investigation of ox bezoar talismans (goōhōin 牛玉宝印), ritual dramas and dances, hot water rituals (yudate 湯立), and mountain asceticism (Shugendō 修験道). Through this analysis I hope to highlight the religious shift from discourse to practice, taking into account the movement from engi to kagura.


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