Up in the mountains, and throughout Japanese history and folklore, is the continuing presence of the “yamabushi”, the ascetic hermit monk. Dressed in robes, carrying a staff, caring for the mountains they worship and love, they live off the land.
In Shikoku, there is particular importance to the yamabushi as they are deeply connected with Konpira, the mountain-shrine here in Kagawa-ken. You may not be able to see them as you travel the stone staircases to the top, but their history and identity is linked deeply to the area.
The yamabushi in literature and history have been seen as figures who hold supernatural strength, drawing their powers from tree and stone. They are martial artists, they are live-wires to Shingon Buddhism, the sect established by Kukai (Koubou Daishi), and while they are not so much present today, they were very much so a serious factor militarily during the Sengoku Period of Japan’s history (1467-1600). This is also a period of history where notable figures such as Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu. Tokugawa in particular, brought this age of turmoil to an end by taking charge of Osaka and then ushering in the next few centuries of relative calm and stability.
But culturally, the yamabushi still have a place in Japan, still up in the mountains, still keeping the traditions alive. Oku Japan makes this GREAT video: