immortal wishes:
labor and transcendence
on a Japanese sacred mountain

Ellen Schattschneider

Duke University Press (2003)



Teaching Resources

Sacred Beings

Kamisama spirit mediums

(see Immortal Wishes, pp. 30-32)


"Kamisama" spirit mediumship is prominent in the Tsugaru region and has long associations with Akakura mountain, where many mediums undertake ascetic discipline (shugyo) At times, "kamisama" (literally, divine being) mediums may speak for the dead or for ancestors, and may engage in healing rituals. Kamisama at times are linked to established Shinto shrines, and at times are associated with independent shrines and religious establishments; many practice without formal affiliation to larger institutions.

In the Tsugaru region, kamisama are often contrasted with the more famous Itako spirit mediums, who are often blind and who belong to an overarching association. In contrast to itako, who have usually undergone severe spiritual training since adolescence, "kamisama" are generally not called to spiritual service until maturity or middle age, often following a severe illness or family crisis.

In practice, there is a good deal of overlap between "itako" and "kamisama" mediumship, and at times individual practioners have moved from one status to another.

Among the many rituals associated with kamisama is the Cooking Pot (Kamado) rite, which has been incorporated into the annual ritual cycle at Akakura Mountain Shrine.

Kamisama mediums usually are guided by tutelary deities, such as Ryujinsama (the Dragon) or Fudo Myoo.


Two kamisama spirit mediums at Akakura Mountain Shrine

Internet Resources on Kamisama

Local Newspaper Coverage of Folk Shamans in Aomori Prefecture (Ikegami Yoshimasa)


Website developed by Ellen Schattschneider (Brandeis University)