■Project for the Revival of the Seven Graveyard Pilgrimage in Osaka(大阪七墓巡り復活プロジェクトの概要・英語解説文)



■Project for the Revival of the Seven Graveyard Pilgrimage in Osaka

In Japan, Obon is a time for paying respects to the deceased, and particularly to departed members of one’s family. However, not all souls have descendants to honor them, a situation the traditional Seven Graveyard Pilgrimage in Osaka was designed to address.

The pilgrimage appears to have originated toward the end of the 17th century. It flourished until the middle of the 19th century, began losing steam following the Meiji Restoration in 1868, and died out during the first decades of the 20th century.

The pilgrimage was by no means a sombre march from graveyard to graveyard. Contemporary illustrations suggest that pilgrims typically rang bells, played hand drums, chatted and sang or chanted during the processions.

The set of seven graveyards visited during the pilgrimage was fluid and, particularly as time passed, it seems that any given band of pilgrims would visit whichever seven graveyards were most proximate or had particular significance for the band.

The dramatist Chikamatsu Monzaemon (d. 1725) wrote a play entitled “The Seven-Grave Pilgrimage of Kyōshin of Kako,” but the play notes not seven but eight communal graveyards located outside what was then the heart of Osaka. Running from north to south, these are Umeda, Nagara, Yoshiwara, Gamō, Obase, Takatsu, Sennichi and Tobita.

Population shifts accompanying the modernization of the Meiji Period caused Iwasaki, Abeno, Ajigawa, Ōhito, Noe and possibly lesser-known graveyards as well to be added to the list. Other graveyards noted in one source or another include Kizu, Fukushima, Tennoji and Enami.

Depending on which seven graveyards the pilgrims visited, the pilgrimage would have required about half a day.

At this point you may be wondering whether the number seven had any particular significance in the context of the pilgrimages. Although there is no documentary evidence, the presence in Sennichi of the temple Jianji (自安寺) suggests a possible connection with pole star worship.

Jianji was dedicated to the cult of Myōken, a deification of the pole star.

In one strand of syncretic Chinese popular belief imported into Japan, the pole star was regarded as lighting a path for the dead to the other world. As the seven bright stars of the Big Dipper help indicate the position of the pole star in the night sky, believers regarded these stars as helping to guide the deceased to their destination.

What motivated the pilgrims? While it remains common for relatives, friends and associates of a deceased person to pray at his or her grave, and for priests to offer prayers for neglected souls, we can only conjecture why participants in the Seven Graveyard Pilgrimage in Osaka would have purposely visited a series of graveyards to comfort departed spirits with whom they were unrelated.

That said, I believe one motive was a desire to assuage the spirits of two distinct groups of local residents killed during the Siege of Osaka (1614-15): Combatants in the siege loyal to Toyotomi Hideyori (son of the former de facto ruler of Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi), and the non-combatant men, women and children slaughtered by the Tokugawa forces en masse.

To explain, I must make a historical digression.

In the years following the siege, Osaka was rebuilt and prospered as a mercantile city, with certain merchants accruing considerable wealth. Nonetheless, merchants remained at the bottom of the social order imposed by the Tokugawa Shogunate, ranking beneath samurai, peasant farmers and artisans. Their social position being always precarious, merchants were constantly on guard lest they incur the anger of samurai or, even worse, the displeasure of the shogunate.

Another characteristic of Osaka merchants during the early Edo Period is that many remained loyal to the memory of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. However, it could go without saying that under Tokugawa rule, this was a sentiment the merchants could not openly express.

I posit that the socially precarious situation of Osaka merchants and the subversive nature of their loyalties led some among them to inaugurate the pilgrimage as a covert means of paying respect both to Toyotomi Hideyoshi and out of sympathy with the socially disadvantaged fellow residents who had been slaughtered in the Siege of Osaka.

Next, turning to another aspect of the pilgrimage, it is significant that it was undertaken in a metropolis. Participants in village events such as festivals and funerals tend to be deeply connected with the land of their ancestors and with fellow villagers. Historically, outsiders lacking such connections were not allowed, for example, to touch or to help carry portable shrines.

In contrast, cities attract a multitude of unrelated people, and neighbors often know little or nothing of each other. We might suppose that a lack of connectedness played a role in prompting individuals to join a pilgrimage aimed at comforting spirits with nobody to pray for them.

Why then did the custom wither and die? Two main reasons may be cited. First, removal or consolidation of the graveyards accompanying city modernization. Second, local oversight of graveyards being taken over by the national government, an entity less disposed to sympathy or empathy compared to local individuals.

At present, the land on which most of the former graveyards were located have become parks, entertainment districts or shopping and residential areas.

I inaugurated the Project for the Revival of the Seven Graveyard Pilgrimage in Osaka in the aftermath of the Great East Japan earthquake of 2011, an event far more socially disruptive than even the bloody Siege of Osaka. Thirty participants joined the pilgrimage that year, and the number has subsequently risen to as many as one hundred. Pilgrims have included residents of Kyushu and other parts of Japan, as well as of other countries.

Many participants have been childless singles in their 20s, 30s and 40s, a phenomenon I believe is connected with the rising numbers in Japan of single people who may be expected to die with no family members to remember them.

One such participant, a woman in her late 40s, told me she takes part in the hopes that in the future someone will do the same for her. I see this as a fascinating way of linking past, present and future.

Performing the Seven Graveyard Pilgrimage in Osaka is a means both of experiencing how people in Osaka in the Edo Period interacted with the dead, and of obtaining hints about how we moderns might wish to do likewise.

In 2020, owing to Covid-19, I conducted the pilgrimage as a solo undertaking. I hope that by August 2021 I will be able to resume conducting the pilgrimage as a group, and I welcome you to join us.
For more, information, please contact me by e-mail at mutsu_satoshi@ybb.ne.jp

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2020年 10月 15日