What is a Yamabushi?

Kiwi Yamabushi
9 min readNov 23, 2021

The ancient mountain dwellers of Japan

For starters, the only way to really understand what a yamabushi is, is to become one yourself. However, I understand this isn’t exactly practical for most people, so I will give a rudimentary introduction of my understanding of the yamabushi from my perspective as a Dewa Sanzan Shrine Yamabushi. It’s also important to note that my experience is only limited to the Dewa Sanzan Shrine and Daishobo pilgrim lodge yamabushi trainings, the only primarily Shinto yamabushi trainings in Japan.

What are yamabushi?

For those who need an introduction to who I am, or want to know how to become a Yamabushi, watch this video:

In short, Yamabushi are the mountain dwellers of Japan, practitioners of the ancient belief of Shugendo, the way (do) of attaining divine natural powers (gen) through ascetic practices (shu). Otherwise known as Shugenja, ‘those who practice Shugendo’, the word yamabushi comes from Yama (山) meaning mountain, and fushi or fuseru (伏せる), meaning to promulgate, or to be on all fours. This is because yamabushi are often found crawling all over the mountains during Shugyo ascetic training.

What is Shugendo?

The entrance to Daishobo pilgrim lodge on Mt. Haguro run by Master Hoshino

What does Shugendo entail? According to my master, Master Hoshino of Daishobo pilgrim lodge on Mt. Haguro of Dewa Sanzan, the three sacred mountains of Dewa in Yamagata Prefecture, ‘Shugendo is both the philosophy and field of study of those who put themselves in nature, use their senses to feel, then reflect on what they feel’.

Sounds simple, right? Get out into nature, sense, then reflect on what you sense. However, simple and easy are two different things. The activities we partake in come from centuries and centuries of our ancestors’ trial and error for one goal: attain knowledge from nature. Since ancient times in Japan, mountains have been regarded as a sacred location that holds life’s secrets. We follow the rituals and rites that generations and generations of ancestors took…