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.

Zenkoji Temple's Maedachi Honzon,
The Standing Amitabha Statue
(Important Cultural Property)

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.

Major events during the Gokaicho period

Eko-bashira Pillar Receiving Ceremony

Eko-bashira Pillar Receiving Ceremony Sunday, March 29

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.

Eko-bashira Pillar Set up Ceremony

Eko-bashira Pillar Set up Ceremony Friday, April 3

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.

Maedachi Honzon Welcoming Ceremony

Maedachi Honzon Welcoming Ceremony Saturday, April 4

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.

Kaibyaku Daihoyo Special Services for Unveiling the Statue

Kaibyaku Daihoyo Special Services for Unveiling the Statue Sunday, April 5

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.

Chunichi-teigi Daihoyo Special Services

Chunichi-teigi Daihoyo Special Services Saturday, April 25 for Tendai Sect Saturday, May 9 for Jodo Sect

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.

The 93rd Butto Hana-matsuri Festival

The 93rd Butto Hana-matsuri Festival Tuesday, May 5 (Public Holiday)

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.

Shinonoi Lion Dance

Shinonoi Lion Dance Sunday, May 17

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.

Kechigan Daihoyo Final Special Service

Kechigan Daihoyo Final Special Service Sunday, May 31

Maedachi Honzon Returning Ceremony Monday, June 1

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.

Major events during the Gokaicho period

March
Sunday 29, 2:30 p.m. In front of the Main Hall Eko-bashira Pillar Receiving Ceremony
April
Friday 3, 1:00 p.m. In front of the Main Hall Eko-bashira Pillar Set up Ceremony
Saturday 4, 3:00 p.m. At the Main Hall Maedachi Honzon Welcoming Ceremony
Sunday 5, 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. At the Main Hall Kaibyaku Daihoyo Special Service for Unveiling the Statue
Saturday 11, 2:00 p.m. - 3:30 p.m. In front of the Main Hall Special Service for Zenkoku Zenkoji Kai
Saturday 25, 10:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. In front of the Main Hall Chunichi-teigi Daihoyo Special Service (Tendai Sect)
May
Tuesday 5 (Public Holiday), 11:30 a.m. In front of the Chureiden pagoda The 93rd Butto Hana-matsuri Festival (Nagano-City Buddhist Organization)
Saturday 9, 10:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. In front of the Main Hall Chunichi-teigi Daihoyo Special Service (Jodo Sect)
Monday 11, 2:30 p.m. At the Main Hall Huge East Japan Earthquake 2011 Memorial Service
Sunday 17, 5:00 p.m. In front of Sanmon Gate Shinonoi Lion Dance
Wednesday 27, 11:00 a.m. At the Main Hall Special Service for Gokaicho Hosankai
Sunday 31, 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. At the Main Hall Kechigan Daihoyo Final Special Service
June
Monday 1, 1:00 p.m. At the Main Hall Maedachi Honzon Returning Ceremony

※ The schedule may be changed without notice due to unforeseen circumstances.

Daily Schedule of Zenkoji Temple

Oasaji:
Morning services

Oasaji:Morning services

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.

Ojuzu Chodai:
Receiving Holy Beads

Ojuzu Chodai:Receiving Holy Beads

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.

Daily Schedule during Gokaicho

Goinmon Chodai:
Receiving Seals

Goinmon Chodai:Receiving Seals

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.].

The Origin of the Ikkosanzon Amitabha and Zenkoji Temple

Zenkoji Temple is popular among people regardless of sect. Here are some of the stories about the origin of Zenkoji Temple and the worship of Buddha Amitabha.

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.

"Following a cow brings you to Zenkoji Temple"

"Following a cow brings you to Zenkoji Temple"

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.

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