Once in seven years by the traditional year-counting method, the Zenkoji Temple Maedachi Honzon Gokaicho event is held to welcome to the Main Hall the Maedachi Honzon statue. It was made in the Kamakura Period as a replica of the temple's hidden principal image, and has been designated as an Important Cultural Property. This spring event brings you a blessed link to Buddha.
The principal image of Zenkoji Temple is called Ikkosanzon Amitabha. It features the standing image of Amitabha in front of a halo, flanked by Avalokitesvara on the observers' right and Mahasthamaprapta on the left. This style is quite unique to Zenkoji Temple. The original principal image has been kept hidden from public view since 654, and its “Sacred Replica,” the standing Amitabha, was made in the Kamakura Period. It is usually enshrined in the treasure repository of the temple, and only during the Gokaicho period, every seventh year by the traditional year-counting method, the image is open to the public, giving visitors a chance to worship it directly.
The flower petals scattered during Buddhist rituals are called "sange"; nowadays, colored paper in the shape of lotus flower petals are used for sange.
The sacred pillar, called Eko-bashira arrives from Matsushiro ccompanied by a dedication procession.
A new Eko-bashira pillar is donated by the people of Matsushiro township every Gokaicho, and is erected in front of the Main Hall during the festival.
The pillar is set up in the traditional way.
The Eko-bashira pillar is set up following ancient traditions, echoed by old Kiyari-uta songs.
The Maedachi Honzon statue is moved from the treasure repository to the Main Hall.
The Men in white ritual costume carry a small shrine from the treasure repository to the Main Hall, in which the Maedachi Honzon statue (Ikkosanzon Amitabha) is placed. In the Main Hall, Buddhist priests of Zenkoji carry it to the innermost sanctuary.
The Gokaicho ceremony solemnly starts.
At the morning service on the first day of the Gokaicho period, the small shrine is open to the public for the first time in seven years to show the Maedachi Honzon, the duplicate of the principal image. On unveiling, a stir sweeps through the crowd of worshippers.
The Gokaicho ceremony begins with special services called Kaibyaku Daihoyo, starting at 10:00 a.m. Separate services are run by priests from Tendai and Jodo sects, which uphold Zenkoji Temple.
The outdoor daytime special services give a colorful air to the event.
Led by children in special costume, the procession of priests in glamorous robes advances, with colorful paper lotus petals called "sange" scattered around. The services of both Tendai Sect and Jodo Sect, called Chunichi-teigi Daihoyo are provided in front of the Eko-bashira pillar. They are gorgeous as well as solemn, which makes them the highlight of the Gokaicho event.
To pray for the health and growth of children.
The Hana-matsuri festival is to celebrate the birth of Buddha, and to wish that every child grows healthily. Children in traditional colorful costume join the festival, and their cute appearance brings a smile to the faces of worshippers.
Big lions perform a grand and dignified dance
Two lions from Shinonoi, which are designated as Intangible Folk Cultural Properties of Nagano City, proceed to Zenkoji Temple along the main street, performing a grand and dignified dance to give added excitement to the Gokaicho event.
The curtain is closed, leaving an air of sentiment.
The 57-day Gokaicho period concludes with the Kechigan final special service. At 5:00 p.m. on May 31, the curtain of the Buddhist shrine cabinet where the Madachi Honzon statue sits is slowly closed, and many worshippers congregate quietly to observe. The next day, the statue is put on a portable shrine and returned to the treasure repository by men in white costume.
※ The schedule may be changed without notice due to unforeseen circumstances.
Morning services start at sunrise every morning at the Main Hall. They are solemn services in which priests from all the temples affiliated with Zenkoji Temple take part.
※The start time of the morning services depends on the time of sunrise. Please refer to the official site for details.
Either the Head Priest of Daikanjin Temple or the Head Priestess of Daihongan Temple leads the morning service at the Main Hall every day. On the way to and from the Main Hall, they touch the heads of worshippers who kneel along the approach to the Main Hall with holy beads, in order to give them blessings.
Worshippers who have the "hoin" seal of Zenkoji Temple touched on their heads are believed to have ensured a peaceful death and a rebirth in paradise. This service is usually provided from January 7 to 15 each year. During the Gokaicho period, however, you have the chance to receive this blessing every day from 8:30 a.m. until the sunset bell rings [5:00 p.m.].
In ancient India, there was a wealthy merchant named Gakkai who had only one child, a daughter named Princess Nyoze. She fell seriously ill, but the Buddha Amitabha cured her. Her father was so thankful that he worshipped the Buddha Amitabha in the form of the Ikkosanzon Statue.
After some time, the statue was taken to Baekje, a kingdom in the Korean Peninsula, and then to Emperor Kinmei in Japan, along with Buddhism.
Unfortunately, however, the Amitabha statue was thrown into a moat in Naniwa (modern day Osaka) by the Mononobe, one of the Japanese clans of that period.
Yoshimitsu Honda from Shinano, later found and rescued the statue.
Yoshimitsu took the statue to his home town, Omi Village (currently in Iida City). Following the word of the Buddha Amitabha, he built a temple to enshrine the statue in the place where Zenkoji Temple is currently located. The statue is the hidden principal image, and this is how Zenkoji Temple was founded.
Once upon a time in Komoro, Shinano (today known as Nagano Prefecture), there was an old woman who lacked faith. One day when she was drying some cotton cloths after washing them in the river, a cow appeared in front of her and ran away with one of the cloths hooked on its horn. Chasing after the cow, the old woman was led to a place. That place place was Zenkoji Temple.
As she entered the main hall at dusk, a silver light shone on the saliva of the cow, revealing the message, "You should not confuse me with just a cow; it is Buddhism that I am leading you to." From that moment, the woman found her faith and devoted herself to Buddha.
Later, worshiping at a Kannon hall nearby, she found the very cloth the cow had run off with at the foot of the statue of Kannon (the Goddess of mercy). She realized that the cow was an incarnation of Kannon. This encounter made her more religiously devoted, and she entered paradise after her passing. This Kannon is said to be Nunobiki (leading with a cloth) Kannon, currently in Komoro.