immortal wishes:
labor and transcendence
on a Japanese sacred mountain

Ellen Schattschneider

Duke University Press (2003)

Teaching Resources

Akakura Mountain Shrine


(see Immortal Wishes, pp. 29-30)

Oshirasama are ritual figurines found in various locales in Tohoku. In Aomori, they are used at times by itako spirit mediums during recitiations of the oshirasaimon ritual chant and entering into a spiritually-enhanced state, in which the mediums may speak for the dead. Many oshirasama are owned by individual families, who usualy store them near the family butsudan (domestic Buddhist altar) and who believe that they figurines bring them and their descendants good fortune.

The oshirasama are usually made of mulberry wood cores, wrapped in cloth, often including silk layers with an outer layer of brocade; they are times decorated with metail jewelry and ornaments. The figurines always come in pairs: a male figure represents a mythic horse, a female figure represents his female human-lover. In various versions of the Oshirasaimon mythic text recited by itako mediums, the lovers are killed by the young woman's enraged father.

Oshirasama are believed by their owners to like to travel. Some ascetics undertaking shugyo at Akakura carry their family's oshirasama on their backs each day as they climb the mountain, or take on them on the shrine pilgrimages. At the great summer festival many oshirasama-owners bring their oshirasama to attend the morning ceremony; the figurines are stamped with the shrine stamp and are respectfully placed on a rack in the rear area of the complex, near the Honden (kami sanctuary).


An oshirasama is dressed by its owner at a festival.





Oshirasama Internet Resources (In Japanese)

includes a graphic of the mythic horse encircling his human lover


Website developed by Ellen Schattschneider (Brandeis University)