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Zenko-ji ‘Gokaicho’ 2022: Everything You Need to Know

Zenko-ji ‘Gokaicho’ 2022: Everything You Need to Know

Held every 6 or 7 years – the ‘Zenko-ji Maedaichi Honzon Gokaicho’ or more simply, the ‘Gokaicho’, celebrates the history and heritage of Zenko-ji with the public display of the ‘Maedachi Honzon’ – a replica of the hidden statue that is housed in the temple (you can see an imitation of the original and replica statue in the image below). Said to be the first Buddhist statue brought into Japan, sometime in the 6th century, it remains hidden from view, never to be seen by human eyes again. A replica of the statue was carved in the 14th century – meaning that while hidden now, the original statue was obviously on display at various times of its history – and is also now hidden from public view… other than during this festival.

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During the Gokaicho, the replica statue is moved into the inner sanctuary of the temple’s main hall and revealed to those in attendance. The statue then remains on public view for the rest of the ceremony. The festival also sees erection of the ‘Eko-bashira’ pillar in front of the temple. This large timber pillar is brought from Matsushiro and once placed in front of the temple, connected to the Maedaichi Honzon – the real statue, said to be the oldest Buddhist statue in Japan – by a rope. Attendees are then free to place their palm against the pillar in transference of energy between themselves and the statue. This simple but meaningful act and display of the replica draws millions of visitors to the temple, with specific events and ceremonies held over several months. In order to do this, the box housing the original statue is opened, the contents of which are protected by a cotton wrap. The rope is attached to this meaning that even the monks who open the protective box do not actually see the statue itself.

The festival draws visitors from all over Japan, with estimates of more than 6 million attendees in 2009 and between 6 to 8 million in 2015. The next Gokaicho had been scheduled to take place in 2021 however due to the impact of COVID-19, the festival was postponed until 2022. The dates for the festival in 2022 have now been announced with the important announcement that it will run for a month longer than usual in an effort to spread-out when people visit and lower congestion in and around the temple. The festival will run from late-March until late-June and include various events and ceremonies, each with its own significance. Major events are spread across the duration of the festival and include:

March 27 / Eko-bashira Pillar Receiving Ceremony: the pillar arrives at the temple from Matsushiro

April 2 / Eko-bashira Pillar Lifting Ceremony: the pillar will be raised following ancient traditions and during the Maedachi Honzon Welcoming Ceremony: the statue is moved into the temple, carried in a repository by monks dressed in traditional robes.

April 3 / Kaibyaku Daihoyo Service for Unveiling the Statue: during the morning service, the statue is revealed for the first time. A ceremony at 10AM marks the official opening of the Gokaicho.

April 23 & May 7 / Chunichi-teigi Diahoyo Special Service: conducted by the Jodo and Tendai sects on different dates, the is the most colourful event of the Gokaucho and sees children in traditional costumes and residents monks approach the temple in an elaborate parade

Yet to be confirmed / Butto Hana-matsuri Festival: this sacred event celebrates the birth of the Buddha and prays for the health of children.

Yet to be confirmed / Shinnonoi Lion Dance: two large, decorative lions approach the temple in an intricate dance that thrills the crowd.

June 29-30 / Kechigan Daihoyo Final Service: brings the Gokaicho to a close as a curtain comes across the statue and it disappears from view until the next ceremony. The following day the statue is returned to its usual repository in the Tendai sect.

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Throughout the festival period, our 1-Day Snow Monkeys, Zenko-ji Temple & Sake Tour will operating everyday – a great way to enjoy the temple at one of the most special times in combination with ‘sake’ tasting, lunch and an early afternoon visit to the Jigokudani Monkey Park. The early stages of the festival should coincide with temple’s cherry blossom trees blooming and with the year’s baby monkeys typically appearing in the park from late-April onward, the tour promises to be especially worthwhile in 2022 while the Gokaicho is in full-swing.

Zenkoji Temple

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