Tokyobling's Blog

Oeshiki – Ikegami Honmonji

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on October 24, 2012

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!


8 Responses

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  1. dafarmer said, on October 24, 2012 at 6:01 am

    Sounds a little bit like Dia de los Muertos. Which is celebreated in November. We have the biggest parade non motorized parade in Tucson for that. Can’t wait to take pictures of that. I love this set of course. thanks for the interesting story. I always wondered about religion in Japan. I kind of feel that the Japanese are not really religious though maybe more traditional?


    • tokyobling said, on November 16, 2012 at 5:14 am

      Very similar I think, at least in the spririt of things! Yes, not as much religious as traditional. I think they prosper greatly by not being enthralled by one of the three book religions…


  2. pk1154 said, on October 24, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    “The place to be happy is here.
    The time to be happy is now.
    The way to be happy is to make others so.” –Robert G. Ingersoll


  3. Timi said, on October 25, 2012 at 5:57 am

    The strange thing is, there were other festivals captured by You, and the people there seemed happier there 😮 or maybe it’s me? Or maybe you just didn’t put here enough pics to prove it:D


    • tokyobling said, on November 16, 2012 at 5:16 am

      Haha… I caught them just at the end of a very very very steep flight of stone stairs and they have probably been dancing for hours! At this point it is more endurance than happiness! (^-^)


  4. Sven said, on October 25, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    I have learnt this and that about shinto and buddhism in Japan, but what you say about christianity surprises me. I have seen one small church in Tokyo, Roman Catholic if I remember right, but nothing like “wedding chapels”. Isn’t civil marriage popular in Japan?


    • tokyobling said, on November 16, 2012 at 5:21 am

      All marriages in Japan are civil. But people also opt for the ceremonies, which are either shinto or Christian, but most often a combination of the two. (^-^)


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