Saturday, May 13, 2006
Buddha's Birthday (Hana Matsuri)
The first four photos were taken on April 5, 1998, at the Buddha's Birthday celebration at Nippon-ji Temple in Tako Town, Chiba Prefecture, Japan. It's a very old and very famous temple of the Nichiren School of Mahayana Buddhism, about a 20-minute drive from where I lived.
In Japan, Buddha's Birthday is called the Hana Matsuri, or Flower Festival. Though most of the Buddhist world marks Buddha's Birthday in May (if I'm not mistaken), it is observed on April 8 in Japan, and if that day is a weekday, processions usually are held on the nearest weekend. It is not a national holiday.
In the first two photos, you can see the white elephant float that is an integral part of the day's procession. It is said that before he was born, Gautama Siddhartha, the future Buddha, appeared to his mother in a vision in the form of a white elephant.
Above is a photo of three clergymen from this temple, taken in October 1996. The man in the center was the head priest, who was a television personality for his discourses on Buddhism.
He died about a year after this photo was taken. His son, a kind and lovely man whose wife is the embodiment of kindness, inherited the temple and became head priest.
I found out about his father's death while visiting the temple with my mother and eldest sister, who had come to Japan to visit me. We lit incense in the old priest's memory (the mourning period was still going on) and reminisced about the day this strange, bearded gaijin with a camera came walking down the path to the temple.
You can see all my Japan photos by clicking here.