The guardian deity of Mt. Atago, north of Kyoto, protective deity of fire and of protection from conflagration. Like many gongen, Atago-gongen is largely a Shugendπ deity. Mt. Atago, which guards the northwest approaches to the imperial capital of Heian-kyπ (now Kyoto), was the haunt of tengu (goblins), particularly a very powerful one named Tarπbπ. During the reign of Emperor Monmu (701–704), the sages En-no-Gyπja, founder of the Shugendπ syncretic sect, and Taichπ, founder of the Hakusan Shugendπ monastery, were ordered to clear the mountain of the goblins. Tarπbπ surrendered to the two sages and promised to become the protector of the mountain and to mount a vigil against fire. As a consequence, he is often viewed as the guardian of Jizπ, or an avatar of this boddhisattva, who is appealed to for protection for children against being burned by the hearth.
Atago-gongen, mounted on a horse and carrying the symbols usually carried by Jizπ (the ringed staff and the desire-cancelling jewel), is titled Shogun Jizπ. On his white horse he flanks Kannon on one side, mirrored on the other by Bishamon. During the Heian period, when the famous general Tamuramaro subdued the Ezo (the Ainu) in northern Japan, he dreamed that his patron, Kannon, appeared to him promising her aid and that of her generals, Bishamon and Jizπ.
As a consequence Jizπ, in his form as Atago-gongen, still overlooks and protects the ancient capital.
Handbook of Japanese Mythology written by Michael Ashkenazi – Copyright © 2003 by Michael Ashkenazi