[Research column] (Vol.5) Discovering religious hospitality (osettai) practice along the Kōyasan pilgrimage route
1. Religious hospitality (osettai) as a practice of supporting pilgrimage
Pilgrimage is well known as one of the oldest forms of tourism. However, pre-modern pilgrimage was physically and mentally difficult travel because pilgrims had to walk, often vast distances. Even in such a condition, one of the important reasons ordinary people completed pilgrimages was to experience the religious hospitality of residents along the pilgrimage routes. This religious hospitality is referred to as osettai in Japanese pilgrimage context, where residents offered food, goods, money and accommodation for free because people believe offering osettai will result in religious rewards (Maeda, 1970). The best-known practice of osettai is found at Shikoku pilgrimage routes, but little is known outside of it. Therefore, the aim of the research note is to describe traditional osettai at Kyōraji district along the Kōyasan pilgrimage route, Wakayama, Japan.
2. Kōyasan pilgrimage and osettai
Since Kōyasan was established in 816 by its founder and monk, Kūkai, Kōyasan has attracted to various classes of people over the centuries. Especially, ordinal people from all around Japan could enjoy pilgrimage in Edo period. As a result, seven pilgrimage routes to Kōyasan were built by the middle of Edo period (1688-1704) (Murakami & Yamakage, 2001). Many postal towns were flourished and offered various kinds of hospitality including commercial services such as accommodations, foods, and goods as well as osettai (Murakami & Yamakage, 2001). Unfortunately, there is limited evidence of osettai along the Kōyasan pilgrimage routes available today. For example, there remains a tea house named Houshi Tawa Chadokoro along the Kuroko-michi pilgrimage route, which equips some utensils for tea, a Buddhist amulet and a statue of Kūkai inscribed the year of 1801 (Kudoyama town education committee eds., 2015). These evident that pilgrims could take a rest, have a tea and pray there. In Kane district along the Kyo-Osaka-michi pilgrimage route, there remain some old houses with verandas facing the pilgrimage route, where pilgrims could take a rest freely (Susa & Takasago, 2018). In addition to these examples, the author could witness the discovery and revitalize process of osettai in Kyōraji district along the Chouishi-michi pilgrimage route in her ethnographic research including interview, observation and document research between December 2019 and June 2020.
3. Osettai tradition at settai-ba by Kyōraji residents
Kyōraji district is an agricultural village located at the beginning of Chouishi-michi pilgrimage route. The Chouishi-michi pilgrimage route is a direct approach to Kōyasan. It is about 20 kilometers long with 180 stone stupas every 109 meters from the base of the mountain counting down to 1 at Kōyasan. There is a flat space named settai-ba (the place of hospitality) between 148 and 147 stone stupas (Figure 1). Kyōraji residents used to offer pilgrims rice balls, hot water, and tea there every March 21 (on the lunar calendar and when Kūkai had started his eternal meditation) until around 1925 when the railway extended, and pilgrims stopped walking the entire route (Kyōraji Hachiman shrine Shosengu committee eds., 1997).
(Figure 1) Settai-ba along the Chouishi-michi pilgrimage route (Photo by the author, 2020)
Osettai is not a common practice nowadays. However, there still remains a stone statue of Kūkai and a hollow behind the benches at the settai-ba today. Locals explain that when people prayed to the statue, they could pray at the mausoleum of Kūkai at Okunoin, Kōyasan from a distance. An inscription at the base of the Kūkai statue explains that Kyōraji residents donated the statue on March 21 in 1841 (Figure 2). It is clear that settai-ba was established at least by this time from the engraved words. Fieldwork research discovered a huge hollow behind the benches and this is explained by two locals as the result of where kitchen stoves were located. This hollow shows where Kyōraji residents used to prepare food for pilgrims. As a motivation for osettai, most of the Kyōraji residents were Kōyasan Shingon Buddhists and they provided osettai as a part of their belief systems.
(Figure 2) A base of the stone statue of Kūkai (Photo by the author, 2020)
Although the stories of osettai practice in Kyōraji district and settai-ba are historically located in the district, unfortunately this heritage is mostly forgotten. However, Kyōraji residents have started an osettai revival movement collaborating with Katsuragi Town and Kōyasanroku Tourism Bureau as from May 2019. The establishment of the movement included interviews with senior residents, a public seminar and an organised walk the pilgrimage route event. Unfortunately, although the event was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the stories of oettasi are now described on the newly established signboard at settai-ba - from November 2020. My ethnographic research adds new knowledge of osettai along the Kōyasan pilgrimage routes and shows how osettai practice supported pilgrims during the Edo, Meiji and Taishō periods. The further meanings of osettai for locals in Kyōraji district and the transformation of osettai there over the centuries will be published as an academic paper by the author in the future.
Osettai (religious hospitality), Kōyasan pilgrimage
- Kyōraji Hachiman shrine Shosengu committee (eds.) (1997). Hachiman jinjya shi [Record of Hachiman shrine]. Wakayama: Kyōraji Hachiman Shosengu committee.
- Maeda, T. (1970). Jyunrei no Shakaigaku: Saikoku Jyunrei to Shikoku Henro [A sociological study of the religious pilgrims: Saikoku and Shikoku areas]. Osaka: Kansai Daigaku Keizai Seiji Kenkyujyo.
- Murakami, Y., & Yamakage, K. (2001). Koya heno michi: Inishihebito to aruku [The way to Koya: Walking with the ancient people]. Wakayama: Kōyasan Shuppansha.
- Susa, S., & Takasago, M. (2018). Kudoyama-cho Kane-ku no Masui-ke to Iwata-ke, Kamema-ke no tokucyo nitsuite [The characteristics of the Masui family, the Iwata family, and the Kamema family in Kane district, Kudoyama town]. in Kudoyama Town Local Activation Project Committee for Cultural Properties (ed.), Kudoyama-cho bunkaisan wo ikashita chiikikasseikajigyo chousa houkokusho [A research report on community revitalization project utilizing Kudoyama town's cultural heritage] (pp. 89-95). Wakayama: Kudoyama Town Local Activation Project Committee for Cultural Properties.
Author: YANATA Kaori (PhD candidate of Graduate School of Tourism, Wakayama University)