At the annual oeshiki festival to honor the buddhist saint Nichiren at Tokyo’s Ikegami temple there’s teams joining from affiliated temples from all over Japan. One of the teams was this hardcore group from Kanagawa prefecture’s Daimyou Honenji who featured some excellent matai acrobatics! It’s amazing to see this guys and girls putting all their effort in showing off their skills and trying to outperform each other with these long poles of wood. Some twirl them around their bodies, almost laying flat on the ground, other do it behind their backs and one guy in this team even threw it in the air, having the strips reach the top of the arch and freeze for a split second while the pole itself stopped in mid air, all the while turning. Of course he caught it perfectly! To back these lay members of the temple up there are dozens of people joining in on drums, flutes and chanting, making for a very noisy festival. It is hard to believe they are celebrating the anniversary of their patron saint’s death!
A lot of the participants in the annual giant Oeshiki festival held at Tokyo’s Ikegami district were monks, and obviously they take the death memorial ceremony of their great sage very seriously. Religious ceremonies make for very interesting photography, and this is one of the most photogenic buddhist ceremonies in Japan. You can see all posts I’ve done about this kind of ceremony by clicking the tag お会式. Shooting these scenes I had to crank up the camera ISO settings and keep a steady hand. It is hard to get good color settings with this kind of light, but I prefer these reddish tones over the artificial colors the camera would prefer, since most light sources have completely different color profiles. Hope you like these though!
Some more photos of the fantastic Oeshiki (お会式) at the Ikegami Honmonji Temple in Tokyo’s Ota Ward. Most of people in the procession has been on their feet since early morning, and even then this was the second of three days of chanting, dancing and music. No wonder they are starting to look tired. Leading up the temple, is a very steep set of stairs that can take the wind out of anyone even on a normal day, let alone anyone climbing in the middle of a procession! I took these photos of the procession about 2-3 minutes after climbing up those stairs. Check out my earlier post for more background on the Oeshiki festival, on of those rare buddhist festivals!
Religion in Japan is very complicated, my friends often jokingly state that the best way to describe Japanese religion is Shinto-Christianity-Buddhist: meaning that you are born and grow up in shinto, marry and work in Christianity, and finally grow old and die a buddhist. It is very simplistic but not an altogether mistaken rule of thumb, one needs only to look at all the shinto festivals where young people revel and have fun, all the wedding chapels in the Western style and all the old ladies and men tending the graves of the many buddhist cemeteries. There are many exceptions though, and one of the most colorful ones is something as rare as a proper buddhist festival, the uniquely Japanese Oeshiki (お会式), a loud, colorful, boisterous death mass by the Buddhist sect following the teachings of Nichiren, one of the most revered Japanese buddhist scholars and priest who died on October 13th 1282. Nichiren teaches that all people have the buddha inside them and can reach enlightenment already in this life, and that both the past and the future is imbedded in the present. Nichiren taught that believers should focus on the now and always live in the present: even dead, the past and future buddha is forever with us in the now, and therefore the death mass to honor Nichiren on the 13th of October every year should be as lively and as happy as possible. At the Oeshiki, groups of devoted followers form a procession to the place where Nichiren held his last sermon five days before dying, at the site that is now the Ikegami Honmonji in Tokyo’s southern Ota Ward. Each group is represented by dancers carrying poles with decorated heads that are so heavy few dancers can keep it up for more than a few minutes before changing out for a rested dancer. They also have portable shrines decorated with lit paper flowers to represent the lotus flowers that according to the tale bloomed on Nichiren’s death. The group’s (often the followers of a local temple) many lay members also join in on drumming, chanting, flute dancing or generally just making noise. Often the priests of the temples lead these groups and the Oeshiki is one of the few chances you’ll have of seeing genuine monks in full on party mode, with whistles and dancing and chanting while drumming. Here’s just a few of the hundreds of photos I took at this years great Oeshiki event at the Ikegami Honmonji. I don’t know what percentage of Japan’s buddhists are followers of Nichiren, but there must be millions, as similar, but smaller, Oeshiki are held all over Japan. This is one of the often overlooked but most enjoyable festivals in Tokyo, and regularly attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors. More photos to come!