Folk Beliefs in Modern Japan
[Table of Contents]

The Life of a Shamaness: Scenes from the Shamanism of Northeastern JapanI

KAWAMURA Kunimitsu


Japan's Miyagi Prefecture is home to numerous shamanistic figures, one type known locally as ogamisama[Glossary: ogamisama], ogamisan, okamin or okaminsan, and another type known as kamisama[Glossary: kamisama] or hayarigamisama[Glossary: hayarigami].II In general, members of the former group are blind shamans who act as mediums (kuchiyose or hotoke oroshi ["one who calls down spirits of the dead"]), while members of the latter group are normally sighted shamans who do not act in the capacity of mediums. At present, there are about forty-four ogamisama living in a northern part of Miyagi Prefecture known as Senboku, while about one-hundred thirty-eight kamisama live in the centrally located cities of the prefecture, particularly in Sendai and Shiogama.1 We interviewed about twelve persons of each shamanic category, asking them about their histories and observing their rituals.2 In this article, I concentrate on the category of ogamisama, while leaving the kamisama to separate studies.3

Blind shamanesses can be found distributed throughout Japan's six northeastern prefectures as well as in Tochigi and Ibaragi prefectures, which border Fukushima. The names by which these shamanesses are called varies depending on the region, with the following general distribution: itako[Glossary: itako] in Aomori, northern Iwate, and northern Akita prefectures; ichiko in southern Akita prefecture; ogamisama in southern Iwate and Miyagi prefectures; miko[Glossary: miko] (or migodo in the Shônai region of Yamagata prefecture; onakama in the Saijô and Murayama regions of Yamagata prefecture; and waka in the Okitama region of Yamagata prefecture, Fukushima prefecture, and in the northern parts of Tochigi and Ibaragi prefectures.4

This variety of names is the result of local variations in the shamanistic tradition itself, as well as a byproduct of the networks of transportation and culture formed under the feudal administration of the Tokugawa period (ca. 1600-1867). Miyagi and northern Iwate Prefectures, where the terms ogamisama or okamin are used, were formerly parts of the feudal Sendai domain.

As can be gathered from the current numbers of ogamisama and kamisama as noted above, the former group numbers only about one-third the latter. This difference reflects the steady decline of the former group due to the difficulty of finding successors. Most of the ogamisama are well advanced in age; some have ceased acting as mediums, while others have given up all forms of shamanism. The youngest ogamisama we met was born in 1939, and she underwent her kamitsuke initiation in 1955. To put this fact in some perspective, the first compulsory education for the blind was introduced in 1948 (for one part of elementary school), while the full "six-three" system of six years of elementary and three years of middle school was implemented only in 1956.5 It has long been predicted that blind shamans will eventually disappear in Japan, and that opinion is shared by the ogamisama themselves. Reasons for the shrinking trend include (1) the implementation of compulsory education for the blind, with the result that blind girls and young women go to schools for the blind rather than becoming apprentices to older blind shamanesses; (2) the implementation of improved social welfare services, thus giving the blind an enhanced degree of choice in occupation; and (3) advances in medical knowledge resulting in reduced rates of infant and childhood blindness.

Together, such factors have resulted in a steady disappearance of those forms of shamanism that rely on ogamisama. While this disappearance may be inevitable under modern conditions, I cannot help feeling that it would be regrettable to stand by and watch such folk practices disappear without further comment. I believe such shamanistic practices are replete with a "folk wisdom" that should be transmitted; one that condenses and transmits the life-history of the visually handicapped within a given local society, together with the history of a society which has made such shamans indispensable, or the folk customs which the people have maintained as a part of their lives. From the limited facts we were able to ascertain during our survey, we feel it important to leave a record of at least one aspect of the history of these blind shamanesses, as an aid to future understanding of such folk wisdom. In this paper, I want to describe the life history of the ogamisama, focusing on the process of shamanic initiation, and from that perspective investigate the mechanisms whereby shamans are produced within local society.

1. Examples of Shamanic Induction

A number of reports and researches have already been issued on the shamans known as ogamisama.6 A bit wary of the danger of merely recaptulating previous research, we considered it important to allow the ogamisama to speak in their own words, since we were attempting to grasp the practices of shamanism within both their social and cultural contexts. We interviewed twelve shamanesses, including two in Motokichi-gun, Karakuwa-chô; four in Tome-gun, Nakada-chô; one in Kurihara-gun, Wakayanagi-chô; one in Kurihara-gun, Tsukidate-chô; two in Tôda-gun, Wakuya-chô; one in Tamazukuri-gun, Iwadeyama-chô; and one in Kami-gun, Nakashinden-chô.

As we interviewed the shamanesses, we discovered a number of features common to all their stories regarding how they had become mediums, leading us to confirm a clear pattern of initiation as suggested by Sakurai Tokutarô.7 The process can be outlined in the following four steps: (1) loss of eyesight in childhood (pre-shamanistic period); (2) entering apprenticeship (training period); (3) initiation experience (kamitsuke or utsushisome) (initiation); and (4) completion of apprenticeship and entering independent business (independence). As examples of this process, I will here present the accounts of two ogamisama from Karakuwa-chô and Tsukidate-chô.8

Example 1. Ono Satsuki (born 1925, Motokichi-gun, Karakuwa-chô).

(1) Pre-shamanistic period

I caught diphtheria, and it went to my eyes. When I was first ill, I must have been about four or five years old, so it was sometime afterward that I went to the doctor, and I of course went to grade school, but I guess I didn't learn much."

Ono's mother died when she was fourteen, and from March of that year Ono was sent out as a servant to another family. "I was a servant to a fish dealer, so I sold fish until the end of my eighteenth year, when I lost my eyesight."

(2) Training period

On August 15, 1944, Ono entered apprenticeship under a man named Senda Kenryû and his wife in Iwate Prefecture, Higashi Iwai-gun, Daitô-chô (Senda was second-generation leader of the sect Taiwashû).

An ogamisama lived across from us, so I knew what they were like, and at the time I became blind I thought, "Oh no, I don't want to become like that." I went to the eye doctor, too, but in the end, my mother died, and that was the biggest reason, I guess. I guess that was it; just because I didn't have my eyes, and even if I stayed with my parents, there still wouldn't be any other work for me to do but this. So, well, my aunt took me to my new master. Because my mother had died young.

Upon entering her apprenticeship, Ono first learned the Heart Sutra and Kannon Sutra; she then studied Shinto songs (kamiuta), and later entered into ascetic "practice" (gyô). Each month, she paid her mistress fifteen yen. "Normally, it should have been twenty yen. Back then, they called it the 'five stipend.'III My mother had just died, and I couldn't afford it. So I had to stay longer to make up for it."

(3) Initiation

Ono's initiation or kamitsuke took place in April 1945, when Ono was twenty years of age. Before the initiation, she underwent a period of fasting and ablutions. The practice ordinarily lasted twenty-one days, but Ono performed hers for twenty-eight.

In my case, it was for four weeks, but that was very unusual. It's a bit hard to explain; if a girl was still young and hadn't yet become a woman, she would get it done in a single three-week period, but if she was older and her menstrual period came when she was one or two weeks into the fast, she would have to do it all over again. It was very strict.

During the fasting period, Ono had to undergo cold-water ablutions, and a "practice hut" (gyôba) was built for the purpose in front of her mistress's house.

You couldn't expose yourself to the sun, and you couldn't meet people. It was in total darkness, totally sealed up. All the cracks were sealed up. They sealed up the cracks and put you in the dark. If it was supposed to be at six in the morning, then you'd go there at six; if it was at one o'clock, you'd go there then. Then, you'd have to do the ablutions three times a day like that until 10 or 11 o'clock at night, until your body just couldn't stand it. It was something that an ordinary person just can't endure. Normally, you would do the cold-water ablutions only about three times if you weren't seen by others people, but even early in the morning you could be seen--because it wasn't a completely hidden place. So they built the practice place and I had to do it over and over again. They built that place, and it was lucky that there was running water behind it. They'd set a bucket there and you'd have to take the water dozens of times and pour it over yourself. During that time you couldn't sleep or lie down, but just kneel there down on your knees, three times a day.

The initiation ceremony or kamitsuke was observed on the last day of this period of fasting. First, cold-water ablutions were performed around 10 o'clock at night, and after it was totally dark the kamitsuke ceremony began. For the ceremony, a group of some thirty other ogamisama and bosama (blind priests) gathered, and the ceremony was attended by her father and other relatives as well.

In the ritual site, cloth banners were hung in the east-west and north-south directions, in the colors white, black, purple, and yellow. An altar was placed together with three rice sacks in the center of the room. The gyôja (the "practitioner" undergoing the kamitsuke) was dressed in the white garb of a shaman, including hand covers and leggings, and made to sit down with one rice sack placed on her back and the other two held under her arms. In front of the gyôja sat the mistress shaman called the okkasan ("mother"), who acted as the "before shaman" (mae kenja, while a mistress shaman called the otôsan ("father") sat behind the gyôja in the role of "after shaman" (ato kenja).

At the gyôja's two sides sat "cousin" shaman disciples called the "eastern adept" (higashi kenja) and "western adept" (nishi kenja). Other ogamisama and bosama sat in a circle surrounding these central actors. Since the site of the ceremony was off limits to all but "those versed in the dharma," the twelve or thirteen relatives of the gyôja that attended were made to wait in an adjoining room. In addition, a large number of other people living nearby came to watch the ceremony, but they were not allowed within the building where the ritual was held.

The kamitsuke ritual began with a ceremony called tôhôdate. Shaman disciples called the "uncle" and "aunt" (oji and oba) used salt and bonden[Glossary: heisoku] (a ritual wand to which white paper streamers[Glossary: shide] are affixed) in a ritual purification of the four directions, followed by the singing of a song (kunigake), calling upon all deities throughout Japan to attend upon the ceremony.

While singing a Shinto song, the brother and sister disciples used red paper strings to bind the gyôja's hair in seven braids. They then repetitively intoned the Heart Sutra.

Ono states,

Someone who was quick would continue for about three hours or so. But if the divine possession didn't take, it might go on all day and still continue. And they'd keep it up until the possession occurred. Because the individual herself had to declare who the possessing spirit (tsukigamisama) was.

Ono's body shook and was just before she fell over she spoke the words, "Narita Fudô."IV

Finally, the Kannon Sutra was recited. Hemp cords were fixed at the two sides of the fallen gyôja; while intoning a Shinto song, the cords were swung in a ritual called sendan okuri. Then the gyôja was moved to the neighboring room, where her return to consciousness was awaited. After regaining consciousness, the gyôja went to the hall and sat in front of her mistress and repeated the words, "I devote myself entirely to this business."V

The mistress then asked, "What does the gyôja want?" and the gyôja responded with something like, "I would like a rosary (juzu). The mistress then gave the new shamaness a rosary, kesa and inkin.VI In addition, the shamaness was given the new name of Yoriko, and she performed her first seance with a catalpa bow,VII calling up the hotokesama (spirits of the dead) of her relatives. With this, the initiation rite of kamitsuke was completed. Ono states,

The gyôja that's going to become an ogamisama wears white clothes, the same ones that a dead person wears, so it's all the same, from the white tekkô (hand coverings) to the kyahan (leggings)--they give all those things to you. The only difference is that you use a red mizuhikiVIII--that's the only thing that's different, since a dead person has a black one. They braid your hair and put the mizuhiki in there. So, it's just like when you die. It doesn't sound very good this way, but it's like you die once, and then are brought back to life. They send you off to the other world, and then bring you back, and start you off on this path [of the miko].

A celebration was held on the day following the kamitsuke. Ono had her hair dressed in the Shimada style common to new brides, and she put on a long-sleeved kimono. Ono relates, "The mistress told me, 'This way, when you get married for real, you won't need a fancy ceremony, since you've already had one.'" All expenses for the kamitsuke and the subsequent celebration were born by Ono's family. Beginning that day, Ono entered a period of "one-hundred days discipline," during which time she was taught the methods of performing exorcisms, faith healing, and divinations.

Ono took her first customers three months following her kamitsuke. Since her mistress had reduced her monthly training charge (from the normal twenty yen to fifteen yen), she was required to perform a longer period of free service to repay her debt.

That continued for eight years after my kamitsuke. That's longer than anyone else, I guess. In turn, though, I got to learn everything real well, so it was better for me in the long run. Because I was always asking the mistress okkasan, "I don't understand this," or "I don't understand that," so she taught me all about it that way, and it was really good for me. I really had a long, hard haul, though.

(4) Professional Independence

At the age of twenty-seven, Ono became independent and returned to her family, starting her own business as a shamaness. Her husband is also blind and makes his living as a masseur. Ono says, "It's really hard to make your way alone as a woman and raise up a family, too. Even so, I managed to built a house and even buy a grave plot. But the business is really hard."

Example 2. Arakawa Matsumi (born 1897, currently living in Kurihara-gun, Tsukidate-chô)

(1) Pre-shamanistic Period

Arakawa Matsumi was born in Kurihara-gun, Kurikoma-chô. Arakawa lost her eyesight at the age of eleven as a result of purulent ophthalmia:

My family was very poor. I was the first-born, and after me there were a bunch of sisters and brothers. In 1902 we had gone through some thirty-eight years of continuing bad harvests; the rice was completely black in color, and a half-acre of land would produce only about a gallon of rice. My family were both farmers and stone carvers, but my father was working alone at the time, so he really had to work hard, he did. Especially when I lost my sight like that, overnight. I think now, if we had had some money, we could have gone to the doctor real quick and I wouldn't have gone blind; I became blind because we were poor. But anyway, my father really had to work hard to support me. He really worked hard.

(2) Training Period

The same year she lost her eyesight, Arakawa entered apprenticeship under the ogamisama Okamoto Kimi, who lived in the same town.

I was ordered to do it by my parents; an old woman who was neighbor to the mistress was a relative of mine, and she acted as intermediary to introduce me as a new disciple. The day I went as a new disciple, she said that I had to begin abstinence (shôjin) starting the next day, so I wouldn't be able to eat any fish or such, and that was because I was undergoing training (gyô).

In return for the training, Arakawa paid the mistress five of rice per day, or one koku, eight to [about 320 liters] per year, and she also brought beans and firewood. The period of apprenticeship was fixed at five years, and during that period the mistress taught Arakawa the reading of sutras, Shinto litany (norito[Glossary: norito]), and divination.

(3) Initiation

Arakawa's kamitsuke (formally called uchisome or utsushisome) was observed on October 6, 1909 when she was thirteen. The ritual began with one-hundred days of invocation and prayer, followed by twenty-one days of fasting. During the first seven days all grains were omitted from the diet, and she was allowed to eat only potatoes, nutmegs, and chestnuts. During the next seven days salt was omitted from her diet, and she was given tiny unsalted rice balls. The final seven days omitted cooked foods ("fire"), and she was fed on thinly sliced raw potatoes and sweet yams. During this twenty-one day period, Arakawa performed cold-water ablutions in the stream flowing in front of the house, and she stayed secluded in a small training hut built for the purpose beside the river. She says, "It was hard when I entered the period of abstinence. And it was hard on my parents as well. Because each day I had to get up before the sun rose, and go to the shrine to perform cold-water ablutions."

Rain mixed with sleet fell on the day of Arakawa's kamitsuke. Some twenty ogamisama and bosama gathered at the initiation ritual. Arakawa states,

So many people gathered together, you know, for the kamitsuke ceremony. There were uncles and aunts from both my father's and mother's side, and a lot of other people who lived nearby came as well. My neighbors, and neighbors of the mistress came, and other representatives, and people who had no relationship to us at all, they all came, saying that they wanted to see the kamitsuke. And then some couldn't see, so they raised up ladders and some even climbed up on the roof. It was the sixth day of the tenth month by the lunar calendar, so snow and sleet were falling. It was really cold.

First, the initiate performed cold-water ablutions.

In front of the house, they had a stage platform like one for kagura[Glossary: kagura] dancing. The stage was decorated, with a big wooden buckets at the left and right in the rear, and they asked two men to draw water and pour it over me. Then, all the people gathered there near the edge of the stage shook bells, while some twanged the strings of bows and others beat on gongs, and all this while I was praying and having cold water poured on me. My father took off his outer clothes and held me. There he was without his clothes and I was dressed in a white underslip and being held there while water was poured on me from right and left. The people gathered there counted out each time, from one to ten, then twenty, thirty and so on, and they continued pouring water on me until they reached ten-thousand. Then my father carried me into the house and they changed my clothes and set me in the very middle of the room.

The kamitsuke began following completion of the water ceremony:

In the inner living room was a person holding a sacred border rope [shimenawa[Glossary: shimenawa]] and in the middle were sacred decorations. First I had to bow to the four directions, so the mistress okkasama held me from behind and made me bow down to the east, west, south and north. Then I was asked about various things, and given a rosary and a bonden. Since there were lots of people of the same profession who had been asked to come, they all circled around me and chanted for one or two hours until the sacred amulet began to move. But for some reason it didn't seem to move, and since it would have been hard for them to continue for two or three more hours, they began wondering whether someone there wasn't polluted, so they asked the brothers and sisters [the other shamans and shamanesses present] to take cold-water ablutions and then to sprinkle salt around to purify the area. Since the people were crowded all around, the mistress left the place where I was and walked around yelling like she was crazed. Since it cost so much money, it would be terrible if the initiation were left half-done, so the mistress was yelling like crazy that if anyone was polluted they should get out. Her eyesight was pretty good, you know, about eighty percent. Then, I didn't know which one of the amulets laid there would move. One moved, but then it would stop, so I was told to try hard again. The people chanting were just sitting there and I felt totally powerless. Then everyone stood up, and stomped around the room, and recited more sutras. Things still weren't going as planned, though, and everyone was still standing, so it wasn't very easy on the people who had been asked to come, either. Then I was possessed by Kannon-sama, the Kannon Bodhisattva of Kiyomizu Temple [in Kyoto]. Then I lost consciousness and was laid down. And I was looking at which one of the amulets would move. The people watching were wearing formal haori and hakama kimonos. But I was still a child then, so I didn't know very well what was going on. Afterwards, my father, who was wearing formal clothes, held a fan and received the amulet that moved. So that's the way it was done.

Numerous small slips of paper (amulets) were placed in front of the gyôja, and they were supposed to move to the ceremonial bonden wand held by the initiate. The name of the deity written on the paper was considered the "possessing deity" (otsukigamisama). This kamitsuke ritual differed considerably from the previous one, recounted by Ono.

After the gyôja regained consciousness, several rites of presentation were observed, including the juzu watashi (presentation with a rosary), oshirasan watashi9 (presentation with an oshirasama[Glossary: oshirasama]IX) and chie hirome ("opening of wisdom").

In the "opening of wisdom" they untied a roll of cloth and spread it open, because I was going to be given a name. Since they were going to give me a "wisdom name" (chiena), they called me Chieko. So they opened my name up, the name Chieko [and in that way] wisdom was opened up. "What is opened up?" And the response was "Wisdom is opened up."

Following this, the ritual "opening of the [catalpa] bow" is normally observed, but since Arakawa was still so young, it was not performed on this occasion. The celebration was held on the following day:

The possession ritual was so hard, and the people invited there had stayed up all night, so we slept a little during the morning of the next day, then got up and had the celebration, setting the table and eating a meal. The guests were given gifts of money. So it wasn't easy on my parents, either. My parents told me they had to grow rice and bring it in the autumn and turn it into money, and use that for the kamitsuke.

From the day following the celebration, Arakawa entered a one-hundred-day period of abstinence as an expression of gratitude following her initiation. She subsequently repayed her debt to her mistress by serving without payment from the age of fourteen to seventeen.

It was different from the free service performed by those in ordinary crafts, since I had to work constantly in the spring (primarily around the time of the spring equinox), traveling around to perform intercessions. If I didn't go around everywhere working like that, I couldn't pay off my debt, so I did it. When I was still working under my mistress, I went around to other places. And the people would say, "Why, she's just a little child, it'll be easy for her to divine things; after all, they wouldn't have sent her here if she couldn't do it, so maybe we should have her talk to the ancestors, too," and so they had me do these divinations. And I would do pretty well, so they'd call me again the next year to the same family. And they'd say, "Oh, the little girl has come again, but now she's gotten big," and so the next year I'd go to the same house again. Since I would ride a horse to go around, when I'd get down from the horse, they's say, "Oh, it's the okamin [okamisama]." And since they thought I would be an older woman, they'd say I looked like a child bride. But I was lucky, because they'd give me tips for going around and doing my work like that, even though I was just fifteen or sixteen. Sometimes I got more money from my tips than I did for doing divinations. But after I got older that didn't happen any more.

(4) Professional Independence

Arakawa paid off her debt and became independent when she was seventeen. Her father came to meet her at the mistress's home and Arakawa says, "He was so happy that he cried when he came to see me." At the age of nineteen, Arakawa's father died, only forty-three years old.

Just as I had finished my training, and I could go out to clients as much as I wanted, my father died; he died at the age of forty-three. And there were eight of us children he had left behind. And that after he had worked and worked-- worked so hard to get through. But along the way he worked until he tired himself out, and died at the age of forty-three. Even so, he hadn't sold our house and he hadn't gone into debt, and had supported my mother and my grandfather. Well, I guess it's alright to be this kind of apprentice, so I was made to go around here and there working, and even after I got my own home, I kept going around like that. So anyway, I've been able to live without going hungry. My father worked so hard to get me set up, and for the most part I've been able to live on my business. And after my father died, I brought up my brothers and sisters, but I just considered it returning the obligation I owed to my father."

At the age of twenty-four, Arakawa received Buddhist ordination (involving a mimicked shaving of the head) at Rurikôin of the temple Chûsonji [in Hiraizumi, Iwate Prefecture], and received the Buddhist name Myôgaku, together with a certificate. Following World War II, Arakawa was a member of the Taiwa Sect (Taiwashû), and at the age of twenty-six, she married a man employed in one of the traditional occupations of the visually handicapped (see below). She adds, "I had a pretty strong temper." Arakawa stopped practicing as a medium in 1981 due to old age, and now performs only faith-healing ceremonies (kitô).

This business that I got into after I lost my sight. . . there's nothing else a blind person can do. Over the years I've had some really hard and rough times, but even though it hasn't been much fun, I've been helped along by the business, and that's just thanks to my mistress, thanks to my parents, and thanks to the kami and buddhas.

The foregoing material has been a presentation in outline of just two case examples, and it is remarkable to note the degree to which these ogamisama were able to clearly recall the events of their own life histories. And that clarity of recall is likely because of their awareness of the importance of these events in their lives, important enough that they must not be forgotten.

The general process leading to the status of shamaness was the same for most of the ogamisama we interviewed, and the common elements of that process can be summed up as follows: (1) pre-shamanistic period, including the loss of eyesight; (2) training period, including acceptance as an apprentice and the course of instruction; (3) initiation, including making of vows, fasting, the kamitsuke ritual, celebration, "gratitude practice," and period of repayment service; (4) professional independence, including debt redemption and opening of an independent business. In broad outlines, the process of becoming a shamaness is the one in which a blind girl attains the status of full-fledged member of the local society by becoming a spiritualist medium; the social institution that makes that transition possible is the subject of the following section.

2. The Institution of Shamanic Apprenticeship

The fact that a blind girl becomes a medium shamaness is a result of the concern of her parents. There is no doubt that parents in earlier times were extremely worried how a blind daughter might be able to make her way through the world. As related by T.T. [3] (this and subsequent bracketed numbers correspond to the mediums listed in the accompanying table), "Since I couldn't be given in marriage normally, my father and mother were worried, and thought they should teach me some kind of trade." In small agricultural and fishing villages, women were considered "wage-earners" (part of the workforce)--and expected to be capable of fulfilling that role--no less than men. The visually handicapped, however, were thought incapable of performing that function, and occupations for the visually impaired were narrowly limited in both the pre- and postwar periods. Even today, it is extremely difficult for the visually impaired to hold an occupation other than one of the traditional "three therapies" (sanryô: massage, acupuncture, moxa cautery).10

Another shamaness (K.S., [7]) relates,

At that time (ca. 1932) nobody would even think of going to a school for the blind unless they were from a real rich family. I heard that the schools for the blind taught things like how to play the shamisen. But even if you learned to play the shamisen or to recite dramatic narratives (jôruri), you couldn't make a living with that around here, so you'd have to go to the city. So the people out here in the country thought, well, you know there's nothing else but to become an ogamisama. If you were from the city, you could be a shamisen player, or a reciter of drama. . . Becoming an ogamisama costs a lot of money, too, but I guess that even if it costs the same amount of money, work in the city is different from work in the country. And they think that if it costs money anyway, you should make your living here the countryside--the village folks, you know. And while you may be pitied because you can't see, there's probably no one who will give you that kind of money, or help you in that way, not out here in the country like this. It might be different in the city. So I thought that well, if I were an ogamisama, I'd have a role--acting as a medium--after the temple priest performs some or other rituals for the dead.

K.S. thus notes that the occupation of a medium was a possible alternative for a blind woman, and the ogamisama specializing in that occupation were thus accepted within local society. Namely, the the act of becoming an ogamisama allowed visually handicapped people to be incorporated within the local society. It was, so to speak, the means whereby the local society provided a "cushion" or "support" for the blind, or at least, blind women. It was, of course, true that the ogamisama were considered indispensable by the local society itself, but equally, becoming an ogamisama was the means for blind women to survive in local society.

It should be added that the blind found conditions of Japanese social life particularly harsh, and they could look forward only to appalling treatment in any historical period. As Ono stated, "An ogamisama lived across from us, so I knew what they were like, and when I became blind I thought, 'Oh no, I don't want to become like that'"; the blind were the constant subjects of such prejudicial discrimination.

In the same way, the shamaness T.N. [11] recounts that she became an apprentice when her parents were counseled by an aunt to the effect that "Wouldn't it be better to make her the disciple of an ogamisan than to go through the hardship of raising a blind child?" In short, a "blind child" was considered a "heavy burden" that would bring hardship to her parents. And that view was based on the traditional assumption that a visually handicapped person could not become a "wage-earner." But without learning some kind of trade, it was impossible for a blind person to survive in ordinary society.

The ogamisama F.S. [6] states, "I played around my family home for about a year after losing my sight. But I knew I couldn't just play around, so that was the first time I got the idea (of becoming an apprentice shamaness)." The "play" (asobi) that she speaks of here means just dallying in the house without doing any productive work. In the everyday world, such "play" was not permitted. Another concept sometimes related in the same context is nora, or indolence. Shamaness R.I. [5] states, "A young girl couldn't be indolent just because she had gone blind. Anyone without a trade was just considered 'indolent.'"

As a result, even being visually impaired was no excuse for being "indolent," and such handicapped persons still had to have some kind of craft or occupation. Without it, the visually handicapped were inevitably alienated from the local society. Matsuda Osamu notes that "in earlier periods, the common attitude toward the handicapped was particularly prejudiced against the blind,"11 thus pointing out the stark historical background lying behind the treatment of those who were visually handicapped. The blind were considered "a burden," and "troublesome." At the same time, within the local society, the blind were "incorporated into productive activities as supplemental agricultural labor, and absorbed into the system of mutual assistance found in the consanguineous and geographical community,"12 and it was a necessity that they be so incorporated.

Visually handicapped women, however, were not incorporated as agricultural labor, but as managers of the communal worldview, or as professional specialists in matters of the other world. And depending on the case, local society could provide a systematic mechanism for such professional specialization, namely through the "mutual assistance of the consanguineous and geographical community." From the perspective of the blind and their families, however, that still represented an enormous burden.

As demonstrated by the foregoing examples, the families bore a considerable economic burden until the acolyte was able to open her own professional vocation as an ogamisama. As a result, there was certainly a sense in which the potential to become an ogamisama was determined by financial considerations. But it was equally certain that other means might be found if a family could not bear the financial costs involved. Surprisingly, there were even cases like the following, in which the entire local society became involved in what was called zaru mawashi ("passing the basket"):

People without money, whether in villages or towns, would rely on zarukko mawashi. They would pass the basket to get everyone to help. Do you know what zarukko mawashi means? I had a loan, so I paid it off. I didn't have anyone else pay it off, but after I ended my apprenticeship and became free, I took customers and used that money to pay off the loan. That way, even people who couldn't pay a loan back could borrow from the village or town. Zaru mawashi meant that first, someone would become the sponsor, and go around to get donations, saying that so-and-so a young woman had become blind, and that it wouldn't be proper to let her become indolent. So people would donate money to let her go through the kamitsuke initiation, and someone would reach into their pockets and sacrifice, and that was called zaru mawashi, since they would take the zaru [basket] around to collect money.

But in my case, I had customers, and when I was successful, I used that money to pay back my loan. But you never know whether you'll be successful or not. It's best if you're really a success, of course. So they would do zaru mawashi. Everyone would go together like that to help. But even so, some aren't successful at becoming ogamisama; even after they finish their apprenticeship, they don't have any customers. For some of them, it's like all the labor and trouble they've had up till now was no more than a waste. Which is to say, if you aren't possessed by a good deity, it won't do any good. It's no good if you try to be a medium but the dead won't respond. (R.I. [5])

In short, the zaru mawashi system of "passing the basket" was used by the local society to set up an ogamisama in her profession. And it can be inferred from R.I.'s statement that this form of "mutual assistance" represented a heavy obligation. Even after receiving the assistance of zaru mawashi, if the woman failed to become an ogamisama, or if her business failed to be prosperous, she would face harsh treatment or reaction from the local society, even though she might not be under any real obligation to repay the money thus collected.

It is nonetheless noteworthy that the local society devised such a mechanism for providing for the handicapped. And the presence of this mechanism is another suggestion that the local society played the role of "support" for blind women. In short, the local society contained within itself a mechanism for incorporating visually handicapped women as ogamisama, and that mechanism was the system of apprenticeship inherent in the process of becoming a shamaness. That system of shamanistic apprenticeship provided the blind girl with a means to attain legitimate status within local society, and it opened the way for her to make her way in the local society as an independent ogamisama. For that purpose, the blind girl was required to transform herself in a way that met the demands of the local society. Superficially, that change meant merely the appropriation of the techniques of a shamaness, but in fact, it signified a more fundamental transformation, one that was realized by the institution of shamanistic apprenticeship and initiation.

3. The Institution of Shamanic Initiation

The entire process of becoming a full-fledged ogamisama is composed of the stages of apprenticeship, training, repayment service and professional independence, and in that sense, it resembles the system of apprenticeship found in other traditional crafts. I earlier quoted the words of the shamaness K.S. [7] to the effect that "if it costs money anyway, you should make your living here the countryside . . ." Namely, becoming an ogamisama was related to being able to "make a living" independently within the local society, in other words, to become a full-fledged member of the society. As reflected by the term "business" used by ogamisama to refer to their vocation, the ability to become an independent member of society as a craftsperson was inherent within the process of becoming a shamaness, and that fact is concisely expressed in the term "becoming independent" (miagari), which was commonly used to express the completion of an apprenticeship.

But it goes without saying that more was involved. The process of becoming a shamaness is composed of a systematic series of rituals which culminates in the initiatory rite of kamitsuke. Accordingly, one is not considered a full-fledged shamaness merely by obtaining the necessary shamanistic techniques. The overall road to becoming a shamaness is composed not merely of the process of becoming independent as a craftsperson, but demands that one be accepted as a full-fledged member, or adult, within the local society, and it is that overall process that comprises the institution of shamanic initiation, an institution which is embodied in the kamitsuke ritual. In fact, that can be called the blind girl's ceremonial socialization, namely, her "rite of passage" to adulthood.13

An observation of the entire process of shamanic initiation, in fact, reveals two overlapping ritual processes. One is the larger series extending from (1) apprenticeship, to (2) kamitsuke and (3) independence, while the other is the narrower series from (1) fasting, to (2) kamitsuke and (3) celebration. Using the framework of research on rites of passage suggested by Van Gennep and Turner,X both of these ritual series can be seen to correspond to the pattern (1) rites of separation; (2) rites of liminality (marginality); and (3) rites of reincorporation. The process of becoming a shamaness thus is composed of dual rites of passage, one incorporated within the other. Here, I want to consider the mechanism of shamanic initiation, centering on the kamitsuke ritual, as a means of understanding the process whereby a blind girl is made a full-fledged citizen of the local community.

The process of shamanic initiation begins with acceptance as an apprentice. With this step, the girl's previous family ties are cut and she enters a fictive parent-child relationship with her mistress. The girl calls her mistress ogamisama her "mistress mother" (shishô kaasama), and the shaman husband of the mistress she calls her "master father" (shishô otôsan). After completing a certain period of training, her initiatory kamitsuke ritual is held. This ritual symbolizes the girl's death and rebirth, with the young blind woman being reborn as a shamaness. After completing a period of free service to reimburse her mistress, she achieves her autonomy, and is "reintegrated" as an independent shamaness within the local society.

The overall process of becoming a professional shamaness can thus be clearly interpreted as composed of the aforementioned steps of separation, margin, and reintegration. But while the blind girl is transformed into a shamaness through this process, that alone illustrates only the means whereby she is made an independent professional. Her acceptance as a full-fledged member of the local society is dependent on more than mere professional independence. An even more fundamental transformation is required, and that transformation is effected by the kamitsuke and other rituals which transform the young girl into a genuine spirit medium.

According to the shamaness T.N. [11], her family bore great expenses for her kamitsuke, and "they said they almost lost their standing in the village, and all because they wanted to make a person (hito ni shitai) of their only daughter."

The word translated here as "person" (hito) is multivocal. The most appropriate sense in this context is likely to become a "full-fledged," or "independent" member of the society. In short, it refers to the means whereby the blind girl is recognized as a member of the local community. And it is this transformation which is effected through the process of becoming a medium, a matter considered of the most crucial importance.

A number of conditions are placed on the individual receiving the kamitsuke ritual. According to T.T. [3], "There was a promise to be an apprentice for a full three years, but I learned fast, so I was able to finish training after just two and one-half years. Because it's all memorization, you know." T.T. herself took an apprentice in the past, but "she didn't learn very well and she wasn't very healthy, so I sent her back after just six months or so." Arakawa likewise took apprentices, and she says, "I tried to teach them, but some of them just wouldn't learn; they'd say that their heads hurt and they didn't understand, so I sent them back because I couldn't bring them up right."

From such comments, it is apparent that one of the conditions of becoming a shamaness medium was the ability to memorize sutras and ritual incantations. In addition, a live-in apprentice had to be physically strong enough to stand the rigors of household work, winter training and voice training (including long hours of cold-water ablutions in winter, long hours of acting as a spirit medium and reciting sutras and ritual invocations). Based on such requirements, the apprentice was subject to age conditions. K.S. [7] states that "people used to say that since it was harder for a girl to memorize things when she got older, it was easier if she were young--and it was easier for the deity to possess her as well." Similarly, M.T. [9] states that "the kamitsuke should be performed before she's becomes a young woman. Once she becomes a woman it's harder for her to be possessed by the deity." And T.S. [12] told us that "She's got to be a child. The possession just doesn't work otherwise. When she gets to be an adult, she has her monthly period, different from a man, you know. So you've got to have the kamitsuke before her menstruation begins. If you do it afterwards, they say the deity has trouble possessing her." In short, the consensus is that the kamitsuke should be performed before puberty, in order to avoid the "blood pollution" represented by the young woman's menstruation.

At the same time, Ono and four others of the twelve we interviewed did not have their kamitsuke until they were around twenty years of age, suggesting that the stipulation that the initiate be pre-pubescent was not an absolute condition. Ono's menstrual period, in fact, began while she was engaged in pre-kamitsuke fasting, with the result that her fast was extended by seven days. This fact likewise points out that "blood pollution" was considered no more than a impurity that could be removed by ablutions or other ascetic practice.

There remains rather wide agreement, however, that the norm is for the kamitsuke to be performed before the girl reaches puberty. As I discuss later, this condition is related not only to the issue of physiological, but social and cultural maturity as well. Namely, the taboo observed in the kamitsuke ritual is that the initiate not already be an "adult woman,"14 a stipulation that is, in turn, related to the fact that the purpose of the ritual is to transform the blind girl into a "person."

In advance of the kamitsuke, the initiate undergoes a one-hundred-day span of intense prayer or rogation, but the actual ritual period is considered to begin with the twenty-one days of fasting immediately preceding the kamitsuke, from which time the initiate is called a gyôja ("ascetic practitioner"). For the duration of the fasting period, one room of the mistress' house is usually allocated as a temporary "ascetic hut" or room (gyôya or gyôbeya). The shamaness M.T. [9] recalls that she was "secluded within six folding-screen panels."

After engaging in cold-water ablutions, the initiate is isolated within the room, where she engages in continual intonation of sutras and ritual formulae. Most importantly, she must avoid exposure to sunlight and the gaze of other persons. The fast eliminates salt, fire (cooked foods), and grains from her diet, thus separating her from everyday life. The process is a devoted attempt to cleanse away all pollutions, thus ensuring her isolation from the profane world and simultaneous approach to purity.

In short, this phase of the ritual process can be interpreted as one of "separation." Fasting here symbolically represents preparation of the body for the approach of death, and the "ascetic hut" is the space for isolation of the dead. The initiate is thus moved away from the everyday world in what might be called a "ritual removal."

The kamitsuke ritual proper is observed on the final day of the girl's fast. A single white flag is erected at the entryway to the mistress' house. According to shamaness T.T. [3], "A white flag is set up at the gate, with writing that says they're worshiping the 'parent deity' (oyagami)." Another shamaness, M.T. [9] recalls, "The name of the mistress's possessing deity is written there." The white flag demarcates the sacred space of the kamitsuke, while also serving as an anouncement to the local society of the performance of the ritual, thus indicating that the kamitsuke exhibits elements both of a secret ceremony and of a public ritual.

It can be inferred from the examples of Ono and Arakawa that large crowds of onlookers gather to observe the cold-water ablutions held prior to the kamitsuke. Shamaness K.S. [7] notes that "the people from those parts all go to the kamitsuke, and they all pray that the deity possession will occur as fast as possible." In short, the witness of the profane world is necessary for the young woman's rebirth to the status of a new ogamisama.

The last cold-water ablutions represent the final ritual of separation immediately preceding the kamitsuke. In some cases, the initate wears a tarabashi (the woven straw lid from a straw rice container) during this ritual. It may be that this covering can be interpreted as a variation of the broad-rimmed straw hat or kasa traditionally worn by travelers. If so, then as Komatsu Kazuhiko has pointed out, the tarabashi may be one more metaphor for death.15 In point of fact, the series of fasts and cold-water ablutions leading up to this point have left the initiate in a extreme state of debilitation.16

The initiate puts on white clothes and proceeds to the ritual site for the kamitsuke. She is dressed in a white undergown, white hand coverings and leggings, and in some cases, her head is covered with a white cloth as well. As the shamaness Ono states, the initiate is dressed "the same as when you die," in other words, in mortuary apparel. At this stage, the initiate symbolically becomes dead and is cloaked in the metaphors of death, thus passing beyond the borders of everyday society. Accordingly, it is clear that the kamitsuke is a ritual of liminality leading to the world of death.

As reflected by the cases of Ono and Arakawa, the placement of persons inside the ritual site during the kamitsuke may take in one of two forms. The primary difference was the presence of rice sacks in Ono's case, while other elements were the same. In either case, the mistress ogamisama known as the ato kenja ("after shaman") sits behind the initiate and embraces her. As described by the shamanesses, "the mistress okkasan held me from behind" (K.T. [4]), or "the okkasan sat behind me and held me; but since she couldn't hold me for hours on end, she sat on the back hem of my haori [kimono coat] so I wouldn't fall over." (E.S. [6]).

The initiate is surrounded by other ogamisama and male bosama. Here, the initiate is placed within a field clearly symbolic of the womb. The mistress okkasan becomes, in fact, the womb--the initiate's mother. This symbolism is emphasized by the placement of other adepts surrounding the initiate, and by the ritual kamitsuke site itself. The rice sacks used to surround the initiate on three sides (in Ono's case) can be viewed in the same way. As a result, the initiate is first depicted as one dead, but then immediately moved into the womb. In short, the site of the kamitsuke is a place of symbolic death and rebirth.

During the kamitsuke ritual, sutras and ritual formulae are intoned against the background of a boisterous din produced from a variety of percussion instruments, transforming the ritual site into a sacred space. The traditional "seven instruments" include catalpa bows, priests staves (shakujô), large and small gongs, large and small bells, and drums. Together, these percussion instruments and chanting voices transform the ritual site into a sacred space of sound.17 In her weakened and emaciated state, the initiate concentrates singlemindedly on prayer as she approaches her first divine possession.

Two kinds of possession may occur by a familiar spirit or tsukigamisama. One is illustrated by Ono's case, in which the initiate begins losing consciousness, and just before falling away in a swoon, is caught by the mistress sitting behind her and asked the name of the deity; the initiate then states the deity's name orally ("oral type"). In the second type, illustrated by Arakawa, numerous slips of paper (sacred emblems or ofuda[Glossary: ofuda]) are inscribed with deities' names and placed on a tray before the initiate; the initiate holds a bonden and brushes it over the tray; the deity whose emblem "sticks"XI to the bonden is considered her tsukigamisama ("emblem type"). Of the twelve cases studied here, seven were of the "oral type" and the remaining five were of the "emblem type."

Once the possession has occurred, the initiate falls unconscious in a state called hodenashi, and is released by the mistress okkasan who until now has been embracing her from behind. Symbolically, a new baby has been produced from her mother's womb. As graphically expressed in the words of Ono earlier, the initiate has died and been reborn.

After the initiate regains consciousness, a series of rituals are performed to equip the new shamaness with rosary and oshirasama.18 As noted earlier, one of these rituals is called the "unfolding of wisdom" or chie hirome.19 While the precise nature of the ritual remains unclear, the initiate newly possessed by her tsukigamisama is here given a "wisdom name" (chiena), with the result that the ritual can be understood as the christening ceremony for the newly reborn shamaness. As described by Arakawa, a white scroll of cloth is unrolled during the ritual, representing another symbol of rebirth, or in Miyata Noboru's words, a metaphor for "purifying rebirth" (umarekiyomari).20 Upon receiving her new name, the initiate symbolically enters her new status as an ogamisama. In sum, the kamitsuke forms a complete dramatic performance symbolizing the process of death and rebirth.21

A celebration is held following completion of the kamitsuke, a reception in honor of the birth of the new shamaness. For the ceremony, the initiate's hair is bound in the Shimada style common to brides, and she wears a long-sleeved kimono, making her appearance that of a bride. The initiate is told by her mistress that if she gets married in the future, she can dispense with formal ceremonies, or make do with the most rudimentary of weddings services. In short, even though no visible groom is present, the occasion in fact serves the role of a wedding ceremony or reception. And it is equally clear that the role of invisible groom is played by the initiate's familiar spirit or tsukigamisama. Accordingly, it is natural that the initiate be cloaked in metaphors suggesting marriage. The shamaness T.N. [11] states that "everyone sang and carried on, and they served a sea breamXII with the meal. It's a once-in-a-lifetime event; here, someone has become blind and suffered through all sorts of tribulations, and they are coming out for the first time into everyday society (yo no naka), so they hold a real big celebration."

Against the nature of the kamitsuke as religious ritual, the concluding celebration stands opposed as festivity, and it can be considered a ritual of reintegration to "everyday society." Through the rite of marriage to her familiar spirit, the visually handicapped young girl becomes a "woman" and an "adult," and by achieving the qualification of ogamisama, she simultaneously is reintroduced to society as a "person."

As clearly indicated by Ono's own description earlier, the sequence of observances extending from fasting to kamitsuke to final celebration forms a rite of passage composed of rituals of death and rebirth. This description is augmented by the words of the shamaness R.I. [5] as follows:

At the time of the kamitsuke, you know, you're wearing an ascetic's clothes, so you're all in white; the same white dress of someone who's died and is traveling [to the other world]. It's the same as when you die; like when you're put in there, in the coffin. You don't have anything. So first, everyone is praying and it's not your own feelings; your own feelings go away and the deity possesses you, and everyone asks, 'What god are you?' So then, you say something like, 'I'm the Kannon with eleven faces.' The gyôja says it; that's what they told me I said. Then, they pray that you'll wake up, and when they do that, you wake up and come back to your normal senses again. Then they tell you that you've received this or that deity. And they fix you up like you're a bride going to a wedding; it's a celebration, like when you've gotten married, and the people in this world all give you recognition, that's the kind of ceremony it is. And that's when you begin being a spirit medium (kuchiyose). They dress you like a bride, first putting up your hair in the Shimada style, then the "horn hiding" headpiece [tsuno kakushi]. So when you later get married for real, you don't have to go through it all again. Some people do it over, but I didn't, of course, so anyway first of all, you're reborn. That's the easiest way to say it, you're reborn. You've died once, and then you're born again.

The ogamisama first begins her real entry into the profession of shamaness only after repaying her debt and becoming "free." But in fact, the young woman enters a period of non-paid service as a shamaness immediately after completing the one-hundred days of "gratitude training" that follows her kamitsuke celebration. As a result, she is generally recognized socially as a shamaness as soon as she successfully completes her kamitsuke. In short, she is, at least provisionally, recognized at that point as a full member of society. And that recognition comes not merely because the kamitsuke has transformed the young blind woman into a shamaness, but because she has been reborn as a full-fledged "person." In this way, the individual who, because of a visual handicap, was denied recognition as a "person," is given new recognition within the local society. Accordingly, the kamitsuke is both a ritual of initiation to the profession of ogamisama, while also representing a rite of passage to personhood.


In this paper, I have focused on the central role of the ritual of kamitsuke within the life-histories of the ogamisama. The process of transformation to a shamaness incorporates the mechanism whereby a visually handicapped young woman becomes a medium within the local society and thus achieves the status of personhood. This represents what might be called the process of "socialization" of the young handicapped woman, a process of socialization which has been institutionalized within a local society that relies on the existence of such spirit mediums. The status of a "person," or the achievement of "recognition by people in this world" may be taken for granted in ordinary society, but for the visually handicapped young womman, it represents the end of a hard road, beset with extremes of pain and tribulation.


1. In the construction of the distribution map [not reproduced in this translation], I was assisted by Ôhashi Hidetoshi and Misaki Kazuo. Distribution statistics by city (shi) and county (gun) are as follows:
City/County Ogamisama Kamisama
Motoyoshi-gun 6 2
Kesennuma-shi 6 1
Tome-gun 13 2
Kurihara-gun 6 8
Tamazukuri-gun 1 3
Kami-gun 3 3
Tooda-gun 2 9
Furukawa-shi 0 5
Shida-gun 0 6
Momô-gun 4 5
Ishimaki-shi 1 8
Oshika-gun 0 1
Kurokawa-gun 0 3
Shiogama-shi 0 12
Tagajô-shi 0 6
Izumi-shi 1 2
Miyagi-gun 0 10
Sendai-shi 1 26
Natori-shi 0 4
Iwanuma-shi 0 3
Shibata-gun 0 5
Tsunoda-shi 0 2
Shiroishi-shi 0 7
Katsuta-gun 0 1
Watari-gun 0 4
Igu-gun 0 0
Total 44 138

See also Misaki Kazuo, "Miyagi-ken ni okeru fugeki[Glossary: fugeki] no bunpu" [The distribution of shamans in Miyagi Prefecture] Tôhoku minzoku 11 (1977).

2. This survey was conducted with the cooperation of Okamoto Masaru, Sashima Takashi, Sugino Akihiro and Yamazaki Tôru.

3. On kamisama, see Kawamura Kunimitsu, "Seifu katei to shûkyô-bunkateki haikei: Miyagi-ken chûôbu no jirei o chûshin to shite" [The process of shamanic initiation and its religio-cultural background as seen in examples from central Miyagi Prefecture], Shûkyô kenkyû 255 (1983), and "Miko to hyôrei: Miyagi-ken no jirei kara" [Shamanesses and familiar spirits: examples from Miyagi Prefecture], Tôhoku minzoku 18 (1984).

4. Ishizu Teruji, "Shamanizumu no tokushitsu to hankei: Tôhoku chihô ni okeru jirei" [Characteristics and typology of shamanism: examples from northeastern Japan], Tôyô bunka 46-47 (1969); Sakurai Tokutarô, Nihon no shamanizumu [Japanese shamanism], v. 1 (Tokyo: Yoshikawa Kôbunkan, 1974).

5. Fujita Shin'ichi, Mô to meaki shakai [Socities of the blind and sighted] (Tokyo: Asahi Shinbunsha, 1982), 317.

6. In addition to those cited earlier, reports and studies concerning ogamisama include the following: Kusunoki Masahiro, "Miyagi-ken no shômin shinkô: oshirasama to ogamisyasan" [Folk beliefs of Miyagi Prefecture: Oshirasama and ogamiyasan], in Watanabe Nobuo, ed., Miyagi no kenkyû v.7 (Seibundo, 1983); Gotô Tetsuhiro, "Okamisama no kamitsuke" [The kamitsuke initiation of okamisama] in Iwasaki Toshio, ed., Tôhoku minzoku shiryôshû v.1 (Man'yôdô, 1971); Saitô Kôji, "Okamisama no kôsatsu" [A study of okamisama], in Iwasaki Toshio, Tôhoku minzoku shiryôshû, v. 4 (1975); Satô Seijun, "Miyagi-ken hoku-chihô no miko" [The shamanesses of northern Miyagi Prefecture], Shakai to denshô 2:1 (1958); idem, "Oshika hantô no miko" [The shamaness mediums of the Oshika peninsula], Nihon minzoku gakkai-hô (1959)

Others include Satô Toshietsu, "Katarimono bungei to minkan fujo denshô no kenkyû" [Research on oral literature and traditions of female folk shamans], parts 1-3, Ishimaki-shishi hensan shiryô (Ishimaki-shishi Hensan-Iinkai, ed., 1978, 1979, 1980); idem, "Fujo no soshiki ni tsuite" [The organization of female shamans], Tôhoku minzoku 15 (1981); Sugino Akihiro, "Mô fujo no nyû-fu no kategorii henka: Miyagi-ken hokubu o chûshin to shite" [The initiation of blind mediums and their category transformation: examples from northern Myagi Prefecture], Nenpô ningen kagaku 3 (Osaka Daigaku Ningen Kagaku-bu, 1982); Misaki Kazuo, "Miyagi-ken ni okeru fugeki no bunpu."

7. Sakurai Tokutarô, "Shamanizumu kenkyû no shomondai" [Issues in the study of shamanism] in Sakurai Tokutarô, ed., Shamanizumu no sekai (Shunjûsha, 1978), 30.

8. All names of ogamisama given in the text are pseudonyms.

9. With regard to oshirasama, see Misaki Kazuo, Zusetsu Rikuzen no oshirasama [Illustrated oshirasama of the Rikuzen region] (Man'yôdô, 1972).

10. Fujita Shin'ichi, op. cit., 310-313.

11. Matsuda Osamu, Kage no bunkashi [Cultural history of the blind] (Shûeisha, 1976), 156-157.

12. Katô Yasuaki, Nihon môjin shakaishi kenkyû [Social history of the blind in Japan] (Miraisha, 1974), 597.

13. Sugino Akihiro, op. cit.

14. "When [a young girl] reaches the age of sexual awareness--when she reaches puberty, then the deities won't possess her." See Sakurai Tokutarô, Nihon no shamanizumu, v. 1, 465.

15. Komatsu Kazuhiko, "Minogasa o meguru fuookuroa: tsûka girei o chûshin ni shite" [Folklore regarding the straw rain cloak and hat], Gendai shisô 11:10 (1983), 158.

16. In Arakawa's case, she was held by her father at the time of this final cold-water ablution. This means that the father, too, took the cold-water ablution for the purpose of entering the kamitsuke ritual site; symbolically, the initiate hereby becomes as someone dead, and is separated from the world of the family. The initiate is then carried by her father and moved to the world of the dead.

17. Rodney Needham, "Percussion and Transition," Man (N.T.), vol. 2, 1967.

18. According to Sakurai Tokutarô, after the initiate regains consciousness, she is laid down with her "head to the north" [the direction of death] and allowed to rest quietly. Sakurai describes this action by saying it indicates the initiate has "left the secular world and been reborn in the land of shades," thus illustrating "the principle of death and rebirth." See Nihon no shamanizumu, v. 1, 475, 482.

19. Gotô Tetsuhiro makes the following observations regarding the chie hirome or chiena watashi: "A roll of white cloth is unrolled and handed to the initiate, then it is rolled three times from right to left, and the initiate's new name is divined from the cloth that remains spread out (see Gotô, op. cit., 3). See also Satô Seijun, "Oshika hantô no miko," 7 (1959), 20.

20. Miyata Noboru, Genshiteki shikô: shiro no fuookuroa [Primitive thought: folklore regarding the color white] (Yamato Shobô, 1974), 33.

21. The kamitsuke can in one sense be called a deliberate ritual for the artificial induction of a state of altered consciousness (the divine possession). See Sasaki Yûji, "Wagakuni ni okeru 'shaman' no kenkyû"(Shaman) [Research on the shaman in Japan], Seishin shinkeigaku zasshi 69:5 (1967), 447.

NOTE: I wish to express my deepest appreciation to the twelve ogamisama who participated in this research project. I also wish to thank Misaki Kazuo and the members of the Tôhoku Minzoku no Kai for their insights.

Translator's Notes

I. This paper was originally published in Japanese as "Fusha no seikatsushi: Tôhoku chihô shamanizumu no ichidanmen", Nihon minzokugaku 153 (1984), 16-35.

II. These terms are all the result of various combinations of the honorifics sama (or san) with substantive forms of the verb ogamu (to worship), or the noun kami (deity). The term hayarigamisama includes the additional term hayari which means "of faddish popularity."

In accordance with common ethnographic practice in Japan, Kawamura here and elsewhere expresses orally transmitted folk terminology by means of the kana syllabary alone, refraining from the use of Sino-Japanese ideographs (kanji) unless the term involved is given a uniquely significant counterpart in the local area, or represents a universally accepted reading. For this reason, Romanized Japanese terms given in this translation should, unless otherwise indicated at their first appearance, be considered expressions of the kana syllabary alone.

III. A is a measure of rice equivalent to about 180 cc.

IV. Narita no Fudôsan: a well-known deity enshrined at Mt. Narita in Chiba Prefecture.

V. The term used here for "business" is shôbai, a word normally used to refer to commercial merchant activity or trade.

VI. A Buddhist hand bell.

VII. A bow made of a catalpa branch was a standard implement used by shamanesses in northeastern Japan. See Carmen Blacker, The Catalpa Bow: A Study of Shamanistic Practices in Japan. London, 1975

VIII. Mizuhiki are decorative paper strings used as ties on ceremonial packages and other ritual objects.

IX. The oshira or oshirasama is a divine implement shaped like a doll or stick, frequently encountered in the folk religion of northeast Japan.

X. Alfred Van Gennep, The Rites of Passage, translated by Monika B. Vizedom and Gabrielle L. Caffee (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1909); Victor Turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1969).

XI. While the root tsuku means for a deity to "to possess" a person, the homophone tsuku means "to stick" or "be affixed."

XII. Tai. A fish traditionally served as a celebratory delicacy.

Ogamisama Biographical Information

[Glossary: inari]
  [1] Ono [2] N.N. [3] T.T. [4] K.T. [5] R.I. [6] F.S. [7] K.S. [8] Arakawa [9] M.T. [10] K.O. [11] T.N. [12] T.S.
Yr of Birth 1925 1916 1901 1904 1923 1939 1921 1897 1909 1899 1920 1928
Current Residence1 (Birthplace) Karakuwa, Motokichi (Same) Karakuwa, Motokichi (Same) Nakada, Tome (Same) Nakada, Tome (Same) Nakada, Tome (Same) Nakada, Tome (Same) Wakayanagi, Kurihara (Same) Tsukidate, Kurihara (Kurikoma) Iwadeyama, Tamazukuri (Same) Nakashinden, Kami (Momô) Okeya, Tôda (Kawaminami) Okeya, Tôda (Same)
When eyesight lost 1942 1934 1913 1937 1937 1951 1931 1907 1911 1912 1932 1935
(Age) (18) (19) (13) (20) (15) (15) (11) (11) (3) (14) (13) (8)
Cause Diphtheria   Ophthalmia Cataract Malnutrition Keratitis Glaucoma Ophthalmia     Ophthalmia Measles
Year Apprenticed 1944 1935 1915 1923 1941 1941 1932 1907 1920 1912 1932 1939
(Age) (20) (20) (5) (20) (19) (13) (12) (11) (12) (14) (32) (12)
Master/mistress shaman Senda Kenryû/Yoshino Onoji Hama Chiba Hanayo Takahashi Mino Iwasaki Sueno Sugano Chiyo Satô Ribee/Tatsue Okamoto Kimi Ôba Kotomi Hisakawa SAchie Kashiwa Masayoshi/Hashime Takahashi Koharu
Kamitsuke: Mo-Yr 4-'45 10-'362 10-'162 Winter '25 3-'432 3-'55 10-'36 10-'092 9-'232 4-'17 10-'34 3-'41
(Age) (21) (21) (15) (22) (21) (17) (16) (15) (15) (19) (15) (14)
Kamitsuke Type Oral Oral Emblem Emblem Oral Emblem Oral Emblem Oral Oral Oral Emblem
Tsukigamisama (possessing deity) Narita Fudô O-Dainichisan Narita Fudô Takekoma Inari 11-face Kannon Marishiten Kyokûzô Kiyomizu Kannon Sumiyoshi Myôjin Local Yamanokami Niiyama Gongen Takekoma Inari
"Wisdom name" Yoriko Satoko   Chiyoe   Chiemi Chikatsu Chieko Chiekich   Chieyoshi Kaneko
Independence 1952 1937 1917 1927 1943 1956 1938 1912 1925 1919 1936 1945
(Age) (28) (22) (17) (24) (21) (18) (18) (16) (14) (21) (17) (18)
Marital status Married Married Married Single Married Married Single Married Single Married Married (Divorced)
Date married 1952   1918   1959 1965   1922   1919    
(age) (28)   (17)   (36) (27)   (26)   (21)    
Husband's status Blind   Sighted   Sighted Sighted   Blind   Blind Blind  
and occupation Sanryô3   Farmer   Farmer Farmer   Sanryô3   Shaman Sanryô3  
Current status of professional activity Medium/faith-healing Medium/faith-healing Faith-healing Medium/faith-healing Medium/faith-healing Medium/faith-healing Medium/faith-healing Faith-healing Medium/faith-healing Faith-healing Faith-healing Medium/faith-healing
New Year's Rites Kamisama asobase Kamisama asobase Toshi matsuri Toshi matsuri Toshi matsuri Toshi Matsuri Toshigami[Glossary: toshigami] oroshi / Osaitokujin-sama oroshi Saitokujin oroshi Saitokujin oroshi / Myôjin oroshi / Ujigami[Glossary: ujigami] oroshi Toshi matsuri   Haru kitô / Ichinen no kami oroshi
Sectarian Membership Taiwashû Taiwashû Taiwashû Taiwashû Taiwashû Taiwashû Taiwashû Taiwashû     None presently  


1. "Current residence" is listed in the form chô, gun. Also see the list provided with endnote 1.

2. According to lunar calendar

3. Sanryô refers to the three therapies (massage, accupuncture, and moxa cautery) traditionally reserved as occupations for the blind.

* This table is a modified version of Kawamura's original. --Trans.

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