Self-mummification I: Buddhist Mummies of Japan – Japanese History

That’s right: *self*-mummification, mummifying yourself through a special 3000-day diet and regimen of spiritual exercises which will lead to your death but, if you do it correctly, will mummify your body and make you a sokushinbutsu or “Buddha in the Flesh.” I witnessed many of these mummies personally while living in Japan. This is their story.

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Time/place: Japan, 1081 – 1868 CE

Dead Idea: Self-mummification

Co-hosts: Nick and Anna

Link to my Livejournal post when I visited these mummies in 2007

Trailer for a documentary on Shugendo, the religion from which these mummies came (adherents today no longer practice self-mummification)

Cold water ablutions practiced by Shugenja today

The symbolism of the white garb of the Shugenja

A documentary on the mummies – not terribly good, but it does have footage of them and interviews with locals

Main Sources

Blacker, C. (1979/1999). The Catalpa Bow: A Study of Shamanistic Practices in Japan. London: Routledge Curzon.

Jeremiah, K. (2010). Living Buddhas: The Self-mummified Monks of Yamagata, Japan. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co.

Maps, pics, references, and more at Music and graphic design by Rachel Westhoff.

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