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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

石巻市の中町通り(中央2丁目)にあった本田時計店の店頭に立つ、2人の虚無僧(こむそう)です。
 同店は日清戦争後の1895(明治28)年創業の老舗でしたが、東日本大震災で大きな被害を受け廃業しました。どこかで見た記憶があり、左右対称のショーウインドーにピンとくるものがあり、別の写真から同店と確認できました。真ん中が入り口で、ガラス戸3枚1間半間口の玄関でした。
 虚無僧は明治期にいったんは廃止されましたが、明暗教会として復活します。時代小説や映画、例えば「鳴門秘帖」などに登場します。筆者も子ども時分、虚無僧が店頭で尺八を吹き続け、明暗箱にお布施を頂く光景を見ました。
 虚無僧による普化宗の宗教活動は、中国の普化を祖とし、日本には13世紀に伝わります。虚無僧は僧と称していながら剃髪(ていはつ)をしない半僧半俗の存在で、尺八を吹き喜捨を請いながら、諸国を修行行脚します。小袖に袈裟(けさ)を掛け、天蓋(てんがい)の深編笠(ふかあみがさ)をかぶり、刀を差します。
 江戸時代には托鉢(たくはつ)時の服装と持ち物、旅行時の支度などの規定が定められ、罪を犯した武士が普化宗の僧となると刑を免れ保護されたことから、ならず者の偽虚無僧が横行したといわれています。
 1871(明治4)年、政府は布告で普化宗の宗教活動を禁止しますが、88(明治21)年に京都で明暗教会が設立されて、虚無僧の行脚が復活しました。首から下げた明暗箱はこの時以来のものです。
 子どもながらに不思議な人物との記憶が強く残っています。バトラー大尉はどんな印象を持ったでしょうか。(郷土史家・辺見清二)
※米軍医が撮った1951、石巻地方<12> 中瀬と荷馬車
http://ishinomaki.kahoku.co.jp/news/2018/04/20180408t13006.htm
<情報をお寄せください>
 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。

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