Self-mummification III: A Japanese Abelard and Heloise – Japanese History

To conclude our series, here’s a a self-mummified monk whose bawdy tale could be called a Japanese Abelard and Heloise (i.e. the story Romeo and Juliet was based on, but with more genital mutilation). We also hear how self-mummification died, and even about a 20th-century self-mummified monk.

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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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