Yesterday I went with a friend to 初大師(hatsudaishi- the first religious ceremony of the year) at a local Buddhist temple, 大日時 (Dainichiji). This temple is of the 真言宗(shingon sect). This sect is a branch of Vajrayana Buddhism and the ornate rituals we observed at the temple yesterday were quite different than those of other temples that I have visited in Japan. I know very little about Buddhism and so my descriptions are only uniformed observations. My friend explained some of the rituals to me, but I don’t pretend to really understand the significance of any of the rituals.
Some of the monks were dressed in traditional yamabushi attire and were blowing conch shell horns. The first part of the event took place inside the large temple, there were about 15 monks chanting while opening and closing large books of prayers like accordions. Occassionally people would go to the front and kneel next to one of the monks who would then strike the prayer tablets across their shoulders and backs while chanting. After this ended the head priest gave a short sermon about the importance of treating others with respect and kindness. Everyone then went outside and a procession of monks led by those with the conch shells approached a large platform in the center of the temple courtyard. One of the monks fired several arrows (blunt tips) into the crowd and then small fires were lit on the platform.
These fires were set on top of large white cloths which were bundled up once there were sufficient coals. People in the crowd lined up to have the warm bundles pressed to their heads and shoulders by a chanting monk.
After the prayers ended everyone gathered for mochimaki-throwing mochi into the crowd. The mochi were packaged in plastic bags-one pink and one white in each. Red and white are celebratory colors. I caught two! Everyone was then treated to a lunch of sekihan (azuki rice) and simmered vegetables. This description doesn’t capture the constant drone of the chanting, the drum pounding, the crackle of the fires, the smell of the smoke, nor the warmth of the day. (Of course I went to receive blessings from the monks with the prayer books and bundled embers…)
There is something new to experience and learn every day here. I often feel like an intruder, but yesterday I had a few moments of feeling at home and as if I were in the right place.
and of course a lot makes me laugh here…