Osorezan Festival


Osorezan Big Festival (Osorezan taisai)

***** Location: Aomori
***** Season: Late summer
***** Category: Observance


Osorezan Taisai 恐山大祭 (おそれざんたいさい)
Great Festival at Mount Osorezan
Osorezan Grand Festival

itako いたこ Itako medium, female shaman
itako ichi いたこ市(いたこいち) Itako market

July 22 to 24

During the main festival in summer, many people come to get in contact with their lost loved ones through the blind Itako shamans.

The Osorezan access is open from May 1st to the end of October.
This region is one of the three most sacred places in Japan,
with Koyasan and Heizan.


I visited Osorezan many years ago.
I will try to tell you more about our encounter with the Itako in my report below.

. The Hot Spring (onsen 温泉) at Osorezan .

Lake Usorisan 宇曽利山湖
. Look at more of my photos !

Pilgrims also come here in autumn

Osorezan Aki Mairi 恐山秋参り.


Mount Osore (恐山, Osorezan)
is a region in the center of remote Shimokita Peninsula of Aomori Prefecture, Japan.

According to popular mythology, Mount Osore (literally "Mount Fear") marks the entrance to Hell, with a small brook running to the neighboring Lake Usorisan that is equated to the Sanzu River, the Japanese equivalent to Styx. The reputation is not surprising, given that the very volcanically-active site is a charred landscape of blasted rock filled with bubbling pits of unearthly hues and noxious fumes.

The Bodai temple (菩提寺, Bodaiji) presides over it all and organizes the area's main event, the twice-yearly Itako Taisai festival. The grand festival is held over a period of five days beginning on July 20. In a ritual called kuchiyose (口寄せ), blind mediums known as itako claim to summon the souls of the dead and deliver messages in their voices.
© More in the WIKIPEDIA !

People lining up for the kuchiyose.
口寄せ = Geisterbeschwörung,
„Herbeirufung des Mundes“.


Here are more of the details, please read Mark first and then come back:

Sai no Kawara, the Limbo for Children
The Role of Jizo Bosatsu in Saving Lost Souls
Mountain of the Dead, 霊場恐山
source : Mark Schumacher

Some literature

Schattschneider, Ellen. "Buy me a Bride: Death and Exchange in
Northern Japanese Bride Doll Marriage." American Ethnologist 28.4
(2001): 854-80. - Wedding Dolls

"Family resemblances: Memorial Images and the Face of Kinship."
Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 31.1 (2004): 141-62.

"The Bloodstained Doll: Violence and the Gift in Wartime Japan."
Forthcoming in the Journal of Japanese Studies.

See also "The Mystery of the Mascot Dolls"at


remote sai no kawara in Tohoku

In Shinto mythology
the story goes that between life and death there flows a river.
This river is called Sai no Kawara 賽の河原 (translated it means Sai [Childrens Limbo; Limbo means a region on the border of hell or heaven, serving as the abode after death of unbaptized infants.] Kawara [riverside].
According to Shinto belief, children do not go to heaven or hell, but the souls of the dead babies play on the banks of this river, Sai no Kawara. And one of the things they have to do as their Duty (penance) there, is to stack up pebbles, and build little towers.

However, while doing so, a naughty, horrible devil usually appears who disturbs their playing, breaks their towers up, and scares them. And, it is here where the long sleeves of Jizos robe comes in handy. Because Jizo is the god who protects children, and he does not fail to protect them there on the banks of the Sai no Kawara. So when scared by this devil, they all jump into the sleeve of Jizos robe, where they hide and feel safe and warm. It is said that in the old days, some of the Jizo statues were covered in pebbles from people who stacked the pebbles in front of the Jizo, because it is believed, that for every tower of pebbles you build on earth, you help the souls of the dead children to perform their duty there on the Sai no Kawara.

Wedding Dolls for the Dead

Kokeshi and Infanticide in Japan

. Sai no Kawara, the Limbo for Children .


The female Itako Shamans of Osorezan イタコ

They are a phenomen in themselves during the festival.
I have had one of these itako shamans call up my dead father from Germany. After a long preparation with prayers and incense, she got the contact. But my father talked through the medium, but in the almost non-understandable dialect of Tsugaru. We did not dare interrupt her. After about 30 minutes all was over.
We got the advise to take good care of his grandchildren (we do not have any children), and I should take care to take a cold in the coming winter.

That is me in front of her tent, you can even see the tip of our car.

The itako later told us, she once had foreigners asking for her service, but they interrupted her twice to ask for a translation into normal Japanese ... by the time the spirit had left her and no advise from the other realm was given to them.

It took her a long time of apprenticeship to become an itako, with water ablutions in the middle of the cold Tohoku winter while she was only 12 years old, and studying with the priests at this temple, on how best to soothe the pain of the living, who lost a loved family member. She has a set of "advise" for the most common losses, like father, mother or a child. Also her "advise" through the kuchiyose seance depends on the time between the loss and the visit to her. She has a home on the Tsugaru peninsula where she spends a quiet winter and sits in her tent here in Osorezan during most of the summer, living a frugal life in the temple compound.

The itako play an important role in connecting the dead with their grieving relatives and provide relief by telling them the dead soul wants this or that, which the relatives can provide as an offering in the temple and feel much better afterwards. The provision of brides as wedding dolls for young men, who were lost at sea or during other accidents, is one example of solace for the berieved parents.

Daily Yomiuri: Why are most itako women?
There are various explanations. While male shamans are common in China and Southeast Asia, female shamans are more prevalent in India, North and South Korea, and Japan, where societies are based on patriarchal values. I think shamans tend to be female in societies where women are suppressed or discriminated against as an inferior gender. By associating themselves with the gods, women are able to balance their power with men in such societies.

Japanese used to believe that the gods offered mercy to those in misery, especially Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. She is one of the most commonly believed-in gods among itako. I have seen noseless yuta shamans in Okinawa Prefecture. Such physical defects used to be interpreted as symbolic of supernaturalstigmata.

The oldest reference to female shamans in Japan appears in the Wei Zhi, a Chinese chronicle of the third century. A woman called Himiko, who is described as a shaman, ruled an early Japanese political federation known as Yamatai using a divine power to converse with the gods.
The first reference to female shamans in Japanese writing dates backto the 11th entury.

What religion do itako believe in?
How is the initiation ceremony carried out?
Why haven't itako been respected in the same way as priests?
How can you verify that an itako has really entered a trance?

Daily Yomiuri: Can itako contribute to the well-being of modern people?
Shamanism can help make up for weaknesses of modern culture by providing relief for people in extreme suffering and pain, making fuller use of people's daily lives and keeping society and culture intact. Shamanism fills some of the spaces left open by modern rationalism and science.

Read the details here :
source : Miki Fujii for The Yomiuri Shimbun


イタコ 中村タケ Itako Nakamura Take
She was born in 1932.

This publication "Itako Nakamura Take" consists of two DVDs with subtitles both in Japanese and English, six CDs and detailed explanatory book including the texts of all prayers in Japanese with excerpts in English.
The explanatory book is written by Komoda Haruko 薦田治子 et al. and translation by Kimura Mika.


This publication contains 61 chants and prayers that Nakamura Take chants in the various shamanic rituals, such as praying for the family's safety and prosperity, conjuring the dead and spell casting to cure a disease.
It received the Prize for Excellence, Agency for Cultural Affairs, National Arts Festival, 2013.
- source : www.heibonnotomo.jp


Hotoke-ga-ura 仏が浦

seen from above, on the way down

This is the most western part of the Osorezan Buddhist world, from here the souls take off directly to the Paradise in the West. The rough mountains look like Buddha statues and a huge area is reserved for the dead children.

cliffs like Buddhas

a cave for the final prayer

. More photos in my album .

Worldwide use

Things found on the way

Zu den mizuko, bzw. den mabiki-ko, den umgebrachten Säuglingen, und ihren roten Lätz­chen habe ich in einem Tempel folgende Er­klärung gehört: Jizō hat gelobt, alle Kinder aus der Vor­hölle zu retten. Weil Kinder noch keine Sünden be­gangen haben, kommen sie nämlich nicht direkt in die Hölle, das wäre ja un­ge­recht. Aber sie müssen am Grenz­fluss warten und während dieser Zeit Steine auf­einander schichten. Das ist ähnlich wie Sisyphos. Sie warten so lange, bis keiner mehr um sie trauert. Die Mutter bindet also eines der Kinder­lätzchen zu einem Jizō und bittet, durch den Geruch des Lätzchens das Kind in der Vorhölle zu identi­fizieren und zum Paradies zu bringen.

Wenn die Mutter früher, in der Edo-Zeit zu lange trauerte, konnte sie nicht genug im Haus und am Feld arbeiten. Daher wurde ihr eine Periode von 7 Tagen nach dem Tod eines Kindes (nicht bei Abtreibung, aber bei mabiki, dem Töten eines weib­lichen Säuglings) ge­gönnt. Danach musste sie die Sachen des Kindes, Lätzchen und Spiel­zeug, bei Jizo „abgeben“ und die Trauerzeit war vorüber, Mutter musste wieder arbeiten gehen! Eine recht diesseitliche Religionsbenutzung.

Um den Iwaki-san in Nordjapan werden verstorbene Kinder zu ihrem 20. Ge­burts­tag verheiratet. Die Tempel verkaufen ca. 50 cm große Puppen von Bräuten oder Bräutigamen, die dann mit dem toten Kind „verheiratet“ werden. Das macht die Eltern froh und die Tempel reich. Es ist er­staun­lich, dort in so einer Halle mit tausenden von Hoch­zeits-Puppen zu stehen! Die Itako-Shamaninnen am Osore-Berg reden den Eltern auch noch manch anderes ein — so werden Tennis­schuhe und Fahr­räder oder Frack und Regen­mantel gespendet, manche Tempel sehen aus wie Altwarenhändler.

Dr. Gabriele Greve
source : www.univie.ac.at

presents for the dead



Related words

***** . Hanayome ningyoo 花嫁人形  bride dolls .
and a famous folk song

. Sanzu no Kawa 三途の川 River Sanzu, on the way to hell .

BACK : Top of this Saijiki



anonymous news said...

"I Am Anjuhimeko"

none of that really matters anyway, but that's not what father says,
he says let's try burying her in the sand and waiting three years,
mother was willing to just go along with that, that was a big disappointment,
but, well, here's the problem,
I'm just a newborn who can't even see, and I can't even utter a word to talk back, so I was wrapped in my mother's silk underclothes and buried in a sandy spot near a river

"I Am Anjuhimeko" is based on an oral text passed down for more than 2,000 years in the northeastern countryside of Japan. In this gruesome story, the titular infant is maliciously disposed of but rises from her would-be grave and sets out on a journey of preposterous abuse and hardships to find her missing parents.

Hiromi Ito recites

More in the Japan Times

Anonymous said...

mukasari ema ムカサリ絵馬
votive tablets through which the souls of those who died unmarried were wed to painted spirit spouses.
from Yamagata
They are still painted to our day!


Gabi Greve said...

薬師の湯 Yakushi no Yu onsen hot spring
at Osorezan 恐山 - 青森県むつ市田名部字宇曽利山3-2

At the Osorezan Hot Spring area, there are many different kinds of baths.
Yakushi Nyorai

Gabi Greve said...

Jizoo Son 地蔵尊 Jizo Bosatsu
at 恐山 菩提寺 temple Bodai-Ji, Osoreza

The statue of Jiso Bosatsu at the temple is out all night to help the dead children and sinners from the fangs of the Oni. To help them all fast, he has cut off the long sleeves and sems of his robe and slams his 錫杖 staff on the rocks with a loud noise.
The feet of the statue are always covered with sand - they say.

Gabi Greve said...

Legend むつ市 Mutsu town

sanzubashi 三途橋 Bridge over the river Sanzu at Osorezan

When a sinfull, bad and wicked person came to this bridge, to him it looked as thin as a thread and the leaves of the willow tree looked like dangerous snakes.
The huge boulder in the back looked like an oni-ishi 鬼石 demon stone with sparkling eyes of a serpent.
The water under the bridge would cleanse the sins, but its sound was fearful and the sinner would not dare to cross.

Gabi Greve said...

toigiki 問い聞き / 問聞 / トイギキ と伝説 Legends about Shamanism
hotokeoroshi ホトケオロシ / 仏オロシ "calling the Buddha to earth"
kamioroshi カミオロシ / 神おろし / 神降ろし "calling a Kami to earth"

Legends -

Gabi Greve said...

恐山:血の池地獄 chinoike jigoku blood pond hell
堕獄の女性を救う ”如意輪観音”Nyoirin Kannon protects the women

Gabi Greve said...

Tanabu Kaido 田名部街道 Tanabu Highway
In Aomori 青森県, connecting 野辺地 Noheji with 田名部 Tanabu (むつ市 Mutsu city).

used by the pilgrims to Mount Osorezan.

Gabi Greve said...

Ubadoo 姥堂 Hall for Datsueba
Once upon a time in a year with long rain 三途川 the river Sanzunokawa overflowed, the hall were the statue of 奪衣婆 Datsueba was kept, floated downriver to 正津川 Shozugawa. The villagers brought the things back, but over night they all went back to Shozugawa.
Therefore the villagers now built a hall for the statue and kept the statue there.
More about Datsueba - the Old Hag of Hell .

Gabi Greve said...

Kanagawa, 秦野市 Hadano city
At 大日堂 the Dainichi Do Hall at the temple 香音寺 Koon-Ji there was an Itako medium.
If someone had died, his family would go there to contact the dead via the Itako, be it man or woman.

Gabi Greve said...

kuchiyose Legend from Fukushima 会津若松市 Aizu Wakamatsu city 河東町 Kawahigashi town
hotoke no kuchiyose ホトケノ口寄セ ritual to call a dead person
Before World War II there was a special ritual at 八葉寺阿弥陀堂 the Amida Hall of the Temple Hachiyo-Ji.
A medium would call the soul of dead person and communicate with it.
The Amida hall was established by 空也上人 Saint Kuya Shonin in 964.