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Photographer's Note

I met this stone statue in a small stone chamber at a mountainous village in Mie prefecture.

This figure seems to be En-no-Gyoja (役行者), a half-legendary ascetic who actually existed in seventh century. He is one of the greatest heroes of Japanese folk religion.

There are very few records about his actual biography. But for centuries, Japanese people have many legends about him. The legends say that he performed the ascetic practices in deep mountains and had supernatural powers. He was able to fly from mountain to mountain, and he cured sick people by his magic. And he has been worshipped as a superman.

Legends and worship of En-no-Gyoja is a good example of syncretism in Japanese folk religion. It's rooted in primitive animism, and deeply related with both Buddhism and Shintoism, and influenced by Taoism.

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