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Kosuge village was known as one of the three most sacred places for shugendo (Japanese mountain asceticism-shamanism) in northern Nagano.

Kosuge village
Mt. Kosuge

Until the Meiji era split between Shinto and Buddhism, Kosuge shrine was a New Shingon (Buddhist sect) temple known as Kosugezan-ganryuji. During this period, the temple flourished as one of the three most sacred areas for mountain ascetics in northern Nagano, alonside Togakushi and Iizuna. Although the circumstances of temple's foundation have not been definitively established, chronicles of the time provide some clues to the temple's origins; Searching various countries for a suitable place to promote Buddhist teachings, En-no-ozuno, the father of Shugendo Buddhism, happened upon Mt. Kosuge, founding a temple there in 680 AD. During the Daido Era (806-810 AD), Sakanoue-no-tamuramaro (early 9th century military officer) reached Mt. Kosuge, and rebuilt the Hasshogongen-honmiya and Kayakirido temples. He also founded the Shugenin and Kosugezan-ganryuji temples.
According to descriptions left behind in the temple, it appears that the god Kosugegongen (also known as Matarajin - Tendai sect of Buddhism) was worshipped in the temple. In addition, shrines were build to invite the appearance of the 7 buddhas, from Kumano, Kinpu (Yoshino province), Hakusan, Tateyama, Sanno, Hashiriyu, and Togakushi. During the late Heian era (12th century), Mt. Kosuge became further established through the influence of "Kumano Shugendo" and "True Form Manifestation" ideology.

From the Kamakura period (1185-1333) until the beginning of the Nanbokucho Era (1336-1392), the southern Takanashi dynasty and the northern Ichikawa dynasty battled for control of the Kosuge area. Eventually, the Takanashi clan was defeated at Kosuge by an Ichikawa counter-attack. Subsequently, Muromachi shogunate rule led to stability in the area, and Mt. Kosuge enjoyed a period of prosperity as sacred ground for Shugendo (Japanese mountain asceticism-shamanism) practitioners. Over a period of four years, Ganryuji temple's Gushabochujikan was rebuilt, an inner shrine was constructed, and two Kiritakehououmon-sukashibori-okushawakitake (openworks of phoenix) were created. In general, it's thought that until the Muromachi era, the wide-scale construction efforts in Mt. Kosuge were made possible only by the area's prosperity.

Decline and Reconstruction: The Warring States Period to Modern Day

During the Warring States Period (Mid 15th to 16th century), the Shinano region became a stage for battles between the feudal warlords Uesugi and Takeda, and the Mt. Kosuge area was placed under Uesugi protection. Although Kenshin Uesugi prayed at the mountain for victory in battle against Shingen Takeda, the Mt. Kosuge region's good fortune lasted only until the Battle of Kawanakajima in 1567. At this battle Kenshin Uesugi was defeated, and the buildings of Ganryuji temple (except for the main building) burned to the ground by Takeda's army. After Takeda's eventual defeat by the Oda family, control of the region passed to Katsuyori Uesugi, and the main inner shrine was rebuilt during the subsequent period of stability.

During the Edo period, rehabilitation efforts were directed at the cedars along the path to the inner shrine, as well as various religious architecture, and the sacred area of Kosuge was removed from feudal protection and placed under the control of local villages. Religious services gradually gave way to festivals focused on entertainment and sightseeing for visitors.

During the Meiji Era, Buddhism and Shinto separated into two distinct disciplines. After the split, Ganryuji temple steward Daishoin-betto continued as a Shinto priest, and the temple's Buddhist ritual tools were moved to Bodaiin temple. The temple itself became Kosugesha-hasho-daijin (Shrine of eight gods), and in 1900 the name was changed to Kosuge Shrine. This shrine was the foundation for the current Kosuge Shrine.

Through the cedar avenue to Kosuge inner shrine.Walking slowly, the trip to Kosuge's inner shrine takes about an hour.  Through the quiet avenue of cedars, the approach to rock-wall backed Kosuge shrine will make any traveler believe in shugendo (Japanese mountain asceticism-shamanism). Wandering along the path to the shrine, the views call to mind the area's former prosperity.
  • Kosuge Inner Shrine - Kosuge main shrine
    The Kosuge Shrine inner sanctuary, where eight deities are enshrined, is located at an altitude of nearly 900meters above sea level. According to records, the shrine was originally restored in 1592. The main and auxiliary shrines were built during the mid-Muromachi period (1333-1573), and were designated as national "important cultural properties" in 1964.

    The building faces southward, with a gabled roof entrance, while the northern face is backed against a rock wall. Leaving the north side unornamented, the eaves begin on the western side of the building, seeming to climb the stairs to the main shrine. Water drips from the rock face behind the building, forming a kanroike (a pond) in the inner shrine area. It's said that when the pond first formed, it was used as an object of worship. Moreover, this shrine is the site of Kenshin Uesugi's prayer for victory, offered just before dispatching troops to Kawanakajima. People came to worship from as far as Niigata Prefecture. The principle object of worship is a depiction of Hayagriva (horse-head kannon). However, with the exception of special days, including temple festivals, visitors cannot enter the temple. The inner building is also home to a tsuzumi-iwa (hand drum rock), which is said to make a noise similar to taiko drums when hit.

    Incidentally, a sightseeing route passes over the Mt. Kosuge peak (1047 meters), connecting the mountain with Hokuryuko lake.
  • Kagami-ishi (mirror stone)
    The sightseeing trail (beginner level) splits into two paths, with one route continuing towards Kosuge shrine. Following along this path, the rock face becomes so smooth that it is known as kagami-ishi (mirror stone). The kagami-ishi was designated one of a collection of “Seven trees and Eight stones” in the Kosuge area. Other recognized stones include abumi-ishi (stirrup stone), kakure-ishi (hidden stone), goza-ishi (chair stone), and funa-ishi (ship stone). While their existence is uncertain, owari-ishi (sumo match stone), daikoku-ishi (God of wealth stone) and gazou-ishi (bowing elephant stone) are also included in the collection.
  • Fudo-iwa (immobile rock)
    Legend has it that Kobo-Daishi (founder of Shingon Buddhism) threw his paintbrush while ascending the path to worship, writing Sanskrit characters on the steep rock wall. The site where he threw the brush is cordoned off with a rope, but the Fudo-iwa (immobile rock) can be seen facing the deep valley. A carving of the deity Fudomyo is placed halfway up the steep, nearly vertical rock face. It is believed that the mountain ascetics carried these heavy, stone-carved objects of worship up the mountain as part of their training.
  • Funa-ishi (ship stone)
    Funa-ishi appears to be floating on the crest of an ocean wave. The avenue of cedars ends halfway between Funa-ishi and Goza-ishi (chair stone), exposing a steep mountain trail of lava rock.
  • Kakure-ishi (hiding stone)
    It's said that Kenshin Uesugi (Warring States period warlord) hid behind the Kakure-ishi to avoid the Takeda army at the battle of Kawanakajima. When Shingen Takeda pursued Uesugi to Kosuge village, a big rock suddenly fell with the sound of a mountain rumbling, and a huge tree fell, seeming to attack the enemy troops. Afraid of the Kosuge-Gongen God's powers, Shingen's army fled.
  • Goza-ishi (chair stone)
    It is said that Ennogyojya (early 8th century mystic) and Kobo-daishi (founder of Shingon Buddhism) sat on this stone when they visited Kosuge temple to pray. The small hollow in Goza-ishi is said to come from their walking sticks. Along the temple path, the ruins of Kayakirido temple, rebuilt by Sakanoue-no-Tamuramaro (Heian Period military officer), are also visible.
  • Abumi-ishi (stirrup stone)
    The rock is called Abumi-ishi for the stirrup-shaped hollow in its side. Part of a horse's harness, riders put their feet in the stirrups (abumi), which hang from both sides of the saddle.
  • Torii (gateway at the entrance to a shrine)
    The torii guarding the entrance to Kosuge inner shrine stand beside the Gomado temple ruins, on the site of Ganryuji-Daishoin. 1260 meters separate the torii from the inner shrine, built in a large rocky cavern at an altitude of 900 meters above sea level. Filled with several hundred year old trees, an avenue of enormous cedars extends to the left and right, forming a true temple approach. Various stone carvings stand near the entrance to the avenue of cedars. These include a monument to Wasuke Kanai, who was killed in the Zenkoji earthquake, stone lanterns, a stone tablet inscribed with a haiku by the poet Basho, and a monument of Sanskrit characters. These monuments make it clear that this spot is essentially the center of Kosuge village.
  • A row of cedar trees
    A row of 180 big cedar trees continues approximately 800m. It was formed in Edo era and the biggest one is 45m in height and aged about 300 years. Including the way to the innner shrine, it is maintained by the local people after snow thawing and before the festival.
Historical buildings in Kosuge
Inner Shrine
Kosuge Shrine is home to the God of marriage!?

Kosuge Shrine In historic Kosuge, various tales and legends remain from the old days. One such story is told about match-making.

One day, while worshipping at Kosuge shrine, a lord of Kaga fell in love at first sight with a beautiful girl, and made her his wife. Not long after, the couple was blessed with a healthy child. Overjoyed, the lord proclaimed the easy birth a blessing of the Hayagriva deity, and donated the 600-volume Great Perfection of Wisdom Sutra to the shrine. Since that time, Kosuge Shrine's deity has been worshiped as a God of matchmaking by local people. Kosuge is well-known as a popular place for proposals, and the number of women worshiping at the shrine is said to have particularly increased. Along the path to the shrine, landmarks include Yume-no-kayoi bashi (bridge of dreams), crossed by Kobo-daishi Kukai (9th century priest) and said to ensure happiness. At nearby Aizen-iwa (Aizen rock), the deity Ragaraja, said to fulfill wishes for love, is deified.

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