The temple ground of Bodai-ji
|Venerated||Jizō Bosatsu (Kṣitigarbha)|
|Address||3-2 Tanabu Usoriyama, Mutsu, Aomori Prefecture|
Mount Osore (恐山 Osore-zan?) is a caldera volcano in the center of remote Shimokita Peninsula of Aomori Prefecture, Japan. According to the Smithsonian National Museum of National History, it peaks at 879 meters (or 2,884 feet) and its last eruption was noted in 1787 (Global). While known regionally as Mount Osore, it is locally referred to as Yake-yama (or “Burning Mountain”) due to minimal activity which occurred throughout the past century. According to WAttention website, this site was established at a place of reverence by Jikakutaishi, a Buddhist monk, in 862 AD.
According to popular mythology, Mount Osore (literally "Mount Fear") marks the entrance to Hell, with a small brook running to the neighboring Lake Usori that is equated to the Sanzu River, a river that deceased souls needed to cross of their way to the afterlife. The Sanzu River, or “River of Three Crossings,” is believed to be the boundary between the realms of the living and the dead. Based on Buddhist beliefs, depending on how well a person lived their life dictates how easy their transition across the river will be, whether it be via a bridge, ford, or wading through snake-infested waters. There are four alleged Sanzu rivers in Japan; the one located near Mount Osore is the most northern. The reputation is not surprising, given that the very volcanically-active site is a charred landscape of blasted rock filled with bubbling pits of unearthly hues and noxious fumes. These fumes are caused by the sulfur fumes emitting from the volcano below, which undoubtedly add to the underworld connotation of the site. The site is guarded by Jizo, the bodhisattva of Hell and guardian of children. Thus Jizo statues may be found throughout the area. Among the statues, many visitors have presented offerings, also known as nuigurumi. The nuigurumi consists of children’s toys, clothes, and stones in attempts to help the departed gain entry to heaven.
The Bodai temple (菩提寺 Bodai-ji?) presides over it all and organizes the area's main event, the twice-yearly Itako Taisai festival. The grand festival is held over a period of five days beginning on July 20. In a ritual called kuchiyose (口寄せ?), blind mediums known as itako claim to summon the souls of the dead and deliver messages in their voices. As of 2009, only four known itakos particiated at the festival; the previous year three itakos had died (Fackler, 2009). With the surge of technology and disapproval from the Japanese government, the itako are seen as a fading tradition.
According to Dr. Takeshi Yamada with the Museum of World Wonders, Mount Osore is also home to a unique form of fungi known as Oh-dokuro-dake (or “skull mushroom”). The mushroom is allegedly used by the Itako women due to its mystical hallucination-inducing properties. Dr. Yamada also relays that the largest crop of this mushroom occurred following the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. Due to outrageous claims by the Museum of World Wonders, the existence of this particular mushroom could be fabricated. No additional resources from government or educational institutes could be found to validate this claim, although photographs of the fungi are available online.
The work of contemporary artist Nara Yoshitomo, who is a native of Aomori Prefecture, is believed to be influenced, if at least subconsciously, by Mount Osore (Ivy, 2010). For instance his piece entitled “Not Everything But/ Green House” depicts a small female child standing over a pile of discarded dolls of varying characteristics and eras much like those observed at Mount Osore.
- Fackler, M. (2009, August 20). As Japan's mediums die, ancient tradition fades. The New York Times, p. 8, Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com
- Global Volcanism Program. (n.d.). Osore-yama. Retrieved from http://www.volcano.si.edu/world/volcano.cfm?vnum=0803-29=
- Ivy, M. (2010). The art of cute little things: Nara Yoshitomo's parapolitics. Mechademia, 5(1), 3-29. doi:10.1353/mec.2010.0020
- Wonderland Japan WAttention. (n.d.). Mt. Osore. Retrieved from http://www.wattention.com/archives/mt-osore
- Yamada, T. (2011, June). Skull mushroom. Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/museumofworldwonders2/5725108088
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