A Rare Discovery
The documents originated from Sakuramotobō, a famous temple which lodged pilgrims who ascended and worshipped its nearby mountains and a center for Shugendō, a belief system that centered on mountain asceticism. Sakuramotobō, one of many temples founded in Yoshino in the seventh century, suffered because the Meiji government declared that native “Shintō” shrines and Buddhist temples should be distinct. As a result, Shugendō was banned. Many old records were lost, including the earlier Sakuramotobō documents.
“This mountain worship has left very few sources,” Conlan said. “What happened was in 1868, the Japanese government declared this to be a heretical set, and a lot of these records were destroyed. Some things survived, maybe the link to political leaders. But these kinds of documents don’t survive otherwise.”