At first, it may sound like something out of Greek mythology, but in Japan there is a mountain for three tests of courage. The mountain is called Mount Ōmine (officially Mount Sanjō) and is a sacred mountain in Japanese Buddhism in the Yoshino-Kumano National Park not far from Osaka.
There are so many things to see and do while in Japan. For many, it is a spiritual place and the temples and shrines are a draw. But everyone should check out and explore the stunning imperial city of Kyoto while in Japan.
What To Know Of The Mount Ōmine
On top of the mountain is the temple of Ōminesanji. This important temple is the headquarters of the Shugendō sect of Japanese Buddhism. The whole mountain is a part of a pilgrimage and training ground for the yamabushi.
- Located: In Yoshino-Kumano National Park, Japan
Yamabushi translates as "one who prostrates himself on the mountain". The yamabushi are mountain ascetic hermits who can be traced back to the 8th and 9th centuries. They are normally members of the syncretic Shugendō religion (it has elements of Shintoism and Tantric Buddhism).
It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the listing "Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range"
"...Three sacred sites – Yoshino and Omine, Kumano Sanzan, and Koyasan – are linked by pilgrimage routes to the ancient capital cities of Nara and Kyoto. Together these sites, the connecting pilgrimage routes, and surrounding forests form a cultural landscape that reflect the fusion of Shintoism, rooted in the ancient tradition of nature worship in Japan, and Buddhism..."
Ban On Women
The ban on women to the holy mountain is nothing new, it has been in place for around 1,300 years. No women are permitted to climb mountains sacred to the Shinto religion. Women are also banned from the extreme Katskhi pillar monastery in Georgia.
That the entrance to the trailhead is a 13-foot stone pillar that reads "From here [onward] is the zone restricted to women” (從是女人結界). There is also an 11-foot wooden gate that read "Zone restricted to women gate” (女人結界門). Additionally, a sign has been erected in both English and Japanese "No Women Admitted."
- Duration Of Ban: For The Last 1,300 Years
According to Japan Info, the ban on women is not actually forced on visitors, but it is considered deeply disrespectful to their ancient tradition and religion. Women are advised to respect the ban. Japan Info goes on to say of the ban on women:
"This may be due to the concept of blood impurity as a result of menstruation and childbirth. Besides that, the women may serve as a distraction to the Yamabushi monks who live a hermit lifestyle..."
Women are also banned in Japan from entering the Sumo ring and the BBC reported a case of a woman being told to leave the ring after rushing to give a collapsed man in the ring medical assistance.
The Tests of Courage
The tests of courage may be undertaken by male climbers of the mountain. But one does not need to do them and can just choose to walk around them instead. They are:
Kane Kane Iwa:
Or Kanekaka Iwa. This is the first test of courage and is a Hanging Stone or Crab Rock where one has to climb up a 30-foot rock wall. It is called "the Crab Rock" because of the position one has to take while climbing.
- First Test: Climb A 30-Foot Rock Wall
Most of this is easily climbable but at the top is an overhanging rock. To get over the last part one much swing out over the overhand and then use an embedded chain to ascend.
Nishi no Nozoki:
The second test of courage translates as "the Insight from the West." This is another sheer cliff 60 meters or 200 feet high. Here novices are held with their heads over the edge of the cliff and are forced to admit their wrongs and promise to obey the social and religious laws.
- Second Test: Being Held Over A Cliff And Admitting One's Wrongs
“Have you indulged in too much alcohol and playing around with women?” The monks inched the disciple further over the cliff even before he screamed out, “Yes!” “What was that?” asked the monks edging him further over the edge. “We couldn’t hear you.”
The third and last test of courage translates as "The Rock of Equality". To perform this test of courage is only by special request. It is a rock spire overlooking a cliff with several projections that allow people to traverse from one side to the other.
- Third Test: Transversing Projections Along a Rock Spire Over Looking a Cliff
After having one's courage tested one can see if one feels like becoming a hermit on the mountain or not. Each test is meant to test the spiritual power of the pilgrims.