291-Monks w Shakuhaci Flutes-fr Kyoto.jpg

Pilgrimages of the Komuso

1951 Photograph by an American Military Doctor

Apr. 15th, 2018

Translated by Stefan Ramos

These are two komuso [mendicant priests of the Fuke sect of Zen Buddhism] standing at the front of Hondatokeiten Clock Shop, which used to be on Ishinomaki’s Nakamachidori Street (in Chuo Nichome).

This was an old shop that opened in 1895 (Meiji 28) after the Sino-Japanese War, but it sustained heavy damage in the Great East Japan Earthquake and went out of business. I felt like I had seen this before- when I saw the symmetry on the left and right of the store windows I remembered and confirmed that it was the same store from a different photo. The entrance is at the center. It had three glass doors and was 1.5 ken [approximately 9 feet].

Komuso were temporarily done away with in the Meiji Period [1868-1912], but they came back in the form of the Myoan Church. They appear in historical novels and movies, for example “Secret of Naruto.” When this author was a child he saw them standing in front of stores playing shakuhachi flutes and receiving offerings in their meian boxes.

The religious activities of the Fuke School were founded by China’s Fuke [also sometimes known in English as Puhua] and came to Japan in the 13th century. Though komuso are called priests, they did not shave their heads and during their half-layman existences “they traveled around the provinces while collecting alms by playing the shakuhachi (bamboo flute).” They “wore a short-sleeved kesa (shawl-like robe worn by Japanese monks) over the shoulders, wore a fukaamigasa (open weave basket-like hat that obscured the face) and bore a sword.” [Japanese-English Bilingual Corpus of Wikipedia’s Kyoto Articles]

In the Edo Period stipulations [for the komuso] were established regarding things like personal effects, religious mendicancy outfits, and preparations for travel. Because samurai who committed crimes could become Fuke Sect priests, escape punishment, and be protected it is said that that ruffian false komuso were rampant.

In 1871 (Meiji 4), the government issued an edict that prohibited the religious activities of the Fuke Sect; however, in 1888 (Meiji 21) the Myoan Church was established in Kyoto and the pilgrimages of the komuso were revived. The image of a meian box hanging down from the neck comes from this time onwards.

I have the strong memory of, even though I was a child, thinking these were strange figures. I wonder what Captain Butler thought? (Local Historian, Seiji Henmi)

<Please let us know if you have any information>

You can browse the published photos on the photographer’s eldest son, Alan Butler’s, website “Miyagi 1951”. https://www.miyagi1951.com/

Please feel free to contribute any information regarding these photos to Mr. Henmi at 090(4317)7706. 

米軍医が撮った1951、石巻地方<13> 虚無僧の行脚

※米軍医が撮った1951、石巻地方<12> 中瀬と荷馬車
 掲載された写真は、撮影者の長男アラン・バトラー氏のウェブサイト「Miyagi 1951」で閲覧できます。https://www.miyagi1951.com/
 写真に関する情報は辺見氏 090(4317)7706 にお寄せください。