Monday, April 6, 2009

A hat that does more than just keep your head warm.

(Alison gives us this post on the kaihogyo hat. Thank you very much Alison!)

Just outside of the city of Kyoto we find Mt. Hiei, home to the Japanese Esoteric Buddhist sect called the Tendai. The most extreme practice some of these kaihogyo monks undertake is the one thousand day walk, where practitioners walk
the equivalence of the circumference of the globe over a period of seven years (Covell 256). It’s easy to understand why these monks are called the “marathon monks.” Anybody would concede that spending an average of 143 days per year walking would require top-notch attire and walking equipment, but these monks don’t have so much as a good pair of sneakers. Instead, the kaihogyo monks adorn themselves with no more than straw sandals, a robe, a wooden hat, and some accessories. What is of particular interest is the hat, considered to represent the principle deity of Mt. Hiei, Fudo Myo-o (Rhodes 194). (For a picture of the hat, go to:

The practitioner is said to be a symbol of Fudo My-oo and is to recite his mantras during their entire walk, establishing a constant state of worship (Ludvik 117). Since the Fudo hat is a representation of Fudo, it serves as a constant reminder of the deity and of the ongoing state of worship. The hat is made by wood from a hinoki tree and is rolled up on both of the sides, giving it an oblong shape that kind of resembles a hotdog bun. Because the hat itself is said to be Fudo Myo-o, the marathon monks are to treat it with the highest respect; in fact, the monk isn’t even allowed to wear it for the first 300 days of his practice, except when it rains (Rhodes 194).

Hagami Shocho, who completed the one thousand days of walking in 1954, recalls at first feeling somewhat sceptical about the attire the monks had to wear. Quite quickly, however, he realized that each article of clothing had its own purpose. Of the hat, he noted that its streamlined design made it “just the right fit for narrow tree-lined mountain trails” (Covell 263). This logical design of the kaihogyo attire extended, in his opinion, to the logical and scientific nature of the practice itself. As a result, the Fudo hat takes on a larger role, representing not only the powerful deity Fudo but also the rationale and science of traditional Japanese Buddhist practices (Covell 263).

Any kaihogyo practitioner is said to pledge to kill themselves if, for any reason, they are unable to complete the one thousand days of walking. As such, they carry with them a dagger and a rope if they find themselves unable to go on. Placed in their hat is the rokumon-sen coin, the coin that is pays for the ferry toll to cross the river separating the dead from the living. Here, the Fudo hat takes on another function: that of facilitating border crossing. This is especially interesting considering how much we’ve discussed border transgressions this semester. The Tendai monk sets out on his practice (very much alive) with the preparedness to cross into the world of the dead if he cannot complete his practice. The hat, moreover, is what makes possible this border crossing. So, in addition to representing a very important deity and reflecting the logical nature of the Tendai tradition, the Fudo hat also serves to cross the ultimate border between life and death. Now that is one heck of a hat.

For more on the kaihogyo practitioners, see:

For more on Fudo Myo-o, see

~guest blogger, Alison Colpitts