Engyō-ji Temple is the 27th temple on the Saigoku Kannon pilgrimage in Western Japan. More than 1,000 years ago it was believed that anyone who climbed this mountain would be purified in both mind and spirit. Many people climbed Mt. Shosha to reach this temple and ask for divine favours and, as the faith in the sacred land prospered, Engyō-ji began to gain fame as an important training centre for priests. To this day people from all over Japan and abroad make pilgrimages to mountain’s summit.
It was believed that chanting Japanese the pilgrimage temple’s sacred song (goeika) at each sites would serve as an alternative to making an offering of handwritten Buddhist sutras and as a form of shingon (spell). This was also used as a ritual in funerals, as it was thought that the spirit of the dead would be led around the pilgrimage via the chanting of each goeika, which would enable it to enter the ‘pure land’. This tradition has continued to this day and each site continues to have its own goeika.
Goeika were sacred poems written by the emperor Kazan around 1,000 years ago. They are written in the traditional Japanese poetry form of ‘waka’ and are composed of three lines of 5-7, 5-7, 7 in 31 syllables. Goeika are chanted to the accompaniment of hand bells and small metal gongs at pilgrimage sites and at Buddhist memorial services, during which the individual words are elongated and drawn out.
The Goeika of Shoshazan Engyō-ji Temple is:
“Harubaru-to nobore-ba shosha-no Yamaoroshi, matsu-no hibiki-mo minori-naruran”
“We climbed to the summit of Mt. Shosha as a strong wind blew down from the peak. The pines whispered as they swayed in the breeze. For us even this sound is a teaching from the Buddha.”
When the chanting of Goeika fills the air, the sacred ground of Engyoji Temple has an even more enchanting feeling.
- Prayer and play in Late Tokugawa Japan: Asakusa Sensōji and Edo Society, Nam-lin Hur
- Pilgrimage in the Marketplace, Ian Reader