Hanamatsuri means flower festival, but for Buddhists it is much more than appreciating sakura. April 8th is day we celebrate the birth of the historical Buddha, Prince Siddhartha Gotama, who became Shakyamuni Buddha.

In Hawaii's temples, this is always a happy time when the temple altar is decorated with special embroidered silk cloths and flower arrangements. Fun activities are planned for the sanga (members) after the service. On Maui, an extra service and party is held bringing together all the Buddhist temples of every sect, with lots of food, entertainment, games, and children's choirs singing Hanamatsuri songs. I was interested to see it celebrated in Japan.

Sunday, K drove us the 50 km to Mito City to see the Hanamatsuri celebration at Rokujizo Temple. Roku means "six" and Jizo is a Bodhisattva who vowed to protect the weak (particularly children). In Christian terms, he is sort of a "patron saint" of mothers and children.

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This temple, founded in 891, is named for its six statues of Jizo Bosatsu.

Another attraction of this temple is its trees. It has several ancient cedars, one of which is said to be 1,100 years old. It also has a ginko tree that dates back some 800 years. But at this time of year, everyone's eyes are on the very special cherry trees. They are "weeping" cherries with branches that arch and droop like a weeping willow.

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Weeping cherry.

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Weeping cherry branch laden with ephemerel blossoms contrasts with a 300 year old cedar tree.

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Sakura heaven.

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Preparing tea.

As one would expect on this day, the temple had a lot of visitors. There were booths set up for food and guests could partake in a tea ceremony. Due to the number of people, the tea was served to eight guests at a time who were seated at a long table. While K waited for tea, I roamed about with my camera.

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The trees were in full bloom and as she prepared the tea a gentle breeze stirred little flurries of petals like snow flakes - "sakura fubuki". As they fluttered to the ground, children played a game to see who could catch the most. (As Happysurfer tells us she used to do with ansanga blossoms in Malaysia).

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On the steps of the temple was the traditional flowered pavillion (Hanamido) with a small Buddha statue set in a tray of sweet tea.

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People offering sweet tea.

A laddle rests by the statue, which one uses to pour the sweet tea over the statue as a form of offering, just as one might offer flowers or incense. In Buddhist mythology, it is said that when the Buddha was born, sweet tea rained from the sky.

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Looking up at this cedar, I was in awe of a living thing that has been around about 1,045 years longer than me!

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The trees, blossoms, temple, tea ceremony, swirling sakura petals, and scent of incense combined to make a perfect atmosphere for the occassion.

As we left Rokujizo Temple, the experience had been so beautiful and fulfilling that
our day felt complete. But there was more to come.

To be continued....


Robin said...

Thank you for the beautiful pics.

I feel better after seeing the weeping sakura and the bathing ceremony.

The birth of the Buddha is celebrated in in our region as Vesak Day, on the 15th of April in the Lunar Calendar, which is May 12 this year.

The same ceremony of Bathing the little Buddha, with flower-petals in the water, using a laddle too.

and, I still miss Elmo...

Robin said...

in Mahayana Buddhism,
Jizo is 地藏菩薩 the Bodhisattva who has sworn to empty the gates of hell, otherwise he will refuse enlightenment.

地狱未空誓不成佛, 众生度尽方证菩提

Perhaps K may explain the word to you.

Pandabonium said...

Robin, I hope Elmo turns up soon. He's a beautiful cat. Sorry for your suffering.

Yes, you are quite right about Jizo. I didn't want to get into a long description as my main point was just to present pics of the flowers and event.

Jizo Bosatsu is the Japanese name for Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva. The association with Jizo, who vowed to help those in hell, and aborted or stillborn fetuses is unique to Japan I think. In Japanese tradition they are destined to suffer for causing their parents pain. An emphasis on them is made with regard to Jizo who will help them. Statues of him here often show children clinging to his robes. He also guards expectant mothers, travelers, and firemen. In Japan there are also other forms of Jizo - Miso Jizo, Onegai Jizo, etc. which serve different purposes. The protector of children is called "Kosodate" (child raising) Jizo.

The idea behind six Jizo (Roku Jizo) is that each one represents each of the six realms of existence - hell, hunger, animality, anger, humanity and heaven. In the picture of the six statues, you can see that each one is slightly different for this reason.

Interesting that your celebrations of Vesak are on a different day.

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

Your reference to Jizo and the stillborn babies comes up in Paddy O'Reilly's book 'The Factory' and in Fiji the ghosts of these babies are called 'luve-ni-wai' - children of the water, which is a similar name to the the name given to them in Japan apparently.
Thanks for the pictures. I still have to post something about our gingko tree in Geelong.

Pandabonium said...

Robin, now that I think about it, some temples in the US have a Vesakha is a different service, as it celebrates not only the birth of Buddha, but his enlightenment and death as well. For reasons I do not understand (I will spare everyone the list of things I do not understand) it was never emphasized in the Hawaii Hongwanji temples, though related temples in the USA celebrate the day.

Wendy, 'luve-ni-wai' that is interesting. Yes, in Japan they are called "mizuko" which is exactly the same.

PinkPanther said...

Really strange and interesting. Different region celebrated in a different day. Japanese celebrated it on April 8th. Here in Macao, we make it on 8th April too, but it is on the Lunar Calendar, will be on 5th of May.

Here are three different kind of ceremonies would be held in the same day.

Feast of Bathing of the Lord Buddha:

A day when the images of Buddha are ceremonially cleaned and purified in Buddhist Temples throughout the territory.

Feast of the Drunken Dragon:

This is a very strange festival if compared with the other major Chinese festivals. It dates from the misty past from the Kangxi Kingdom of the Qing Dynasty. Praying to the Buddha for help against a disastrous plague, villagers were carrying his statue when suddenly a giant python leaped out of the river on to the bank, blocking the way. A Buddhist monk slashed at the monster, cutting it into three pieces which were tossed into the river.

The pieces writhed about and then, amid a great wind and thunder, they flew up into the sky.Miraculously, the people recovered from the plague and the turf which has been stained with the creature's blood proved to be unusually fertile. Believing that they had been saved by a divine dragon, the people carved its image and at the annual festival when the Buddha is bathed they drank wildly and danced with the dragon.

Tam Kong Festival:

A colourful festival celebrating the birthday of the God Tam Kong. This child god is said to control the weather and help the sick. Among the fishing community, he is second in popularity only to A-Ma. There is Chinese opera, a procession through the streets and lively lion dances, while traditional offerings are made and firecrackers burnt near Tam Kong Temple.

The Moody Minstrel said...


Jizo. Well, now I know the name of the boddhisatva to whose statue at our local graveyard people offer water and incense in honor of aborted or stillborn children. Informative as always!

I am awaiting the next installment with bated breath!

Pandabonium said...

That's really interesting too Pinkpanther. Thanks for sharing that.

We left the house that morning thinking only of seeing sakura. Not only were the trees more awesome than I could have imagined, the temple and activity there was a wonderful surprise.

Next installment coming up soon MM.

YD said...

Thank you thank you thank you!

It's a wonderful post! The famous 6 地藏菩薩, the sakura, the rites, the festival... When everything come in together in harmony, the scene is just perfect.

May you allow me to wander around in the Rokujizo temple for a while to savour the beauty of the atmosphere...

Happysurfer said...

Pandabonium, as usual, awesome pictures and educational narrative. Thank you.

Pandabonium said...

Thanks Happysurfer. I thought of you when I saw those kids trying to catch the petals as they fluttered down.