Hibutsu - Zenko-Ji


Secret Buddha Statues (hibutsu)

***** Location: Japan
***** Season: See below
***** Category: Humanity


secret or hidden Buddha Statues, hibutsu 秘仏

to show a secret Buddha Statue,
..... kaichoo, kaichoo 開帳

statue standing in front of a secret statue, substitute
..... maedachi 前立
This can be a replica of the original hidden statue or a different one altogether.

votive plaques
..... kakebotoke 懸仏

Small Tabernacle

Secret Buddha Statues are enshrined in special tabernacles called zushi 厨子 and are shown at regular intervals to the public. Some are shown every year, others every seven, seventeen, thirtythree or hundred years only. Some are never shown. (Japanese Link of the dates provided below.)

Usually a substitute statue ("stand before it" maedachi) is placed in front of this tabernacle and can be venerated in prayers at any time.

Look at some secret Buddha statues.


The showing of the secret statue at
Zenko-Ji 善光寺 (Zenkooji) in Nagano is a

observance kigo for late spring.
April 6. See below for more.

go-kaichoo 御開帳, kaichou (かいちやう)
kaigan 開龕, 出開帳
Temple who shows a secret statue , kaichoo dera 開帳寺

© 2002,2003. Zenkoji Gokaicho Housankai.

Zenkooji mairi 善光寺参り Zenko-Ji mairi pilgrimage
Spring Journey to Zenko-Ji

Zenkoji mairi (Pay a visit to Zenkoji temple).
Gorai, Shigeru. 1988. Tokyo: Heibon-sha Press.

. Pilgrimages in Japan .
- Introduction -


observance kigo for all spring

kaichoo 開帳 (かいちょう) showing a secret Buddha statue
..... keigan 啓龕(けいがん)

CLICK for more photos

ikaichoo 居開帳(いかいちょう)
to show a statue in the own temple
dekaichoo 出開帳(でかいちょう)
to go and see a displayed statue at another temple

In Edo, temples needed a special licence to display their secret statues
開帳差し許し, usually at the beginning of a new year. It always attracted a lot of visitors and was good business for the temple and the shops around it.


observance kigo for the New Year

go han itadaki 御印文戴き (ごはんいただき)
"getting a honorable stamp"

..... 御判頂き(ごはんいただき) gohan itadaki

Between January 7 and 15.

The stamp is a substitute for the secret statue of Amida and will protect its holder, and lead him to paradise eventually.


. 善光寺 東海別院 「招福だるま」
Shoofuku Daruma to bring good luck


Sakuo Nakamura on the meaning of KAICHOO
in the haiku of Issa quoted below

The key word is [kaichoo butsu-- a Budha on display]
The most famouse [ kaichoo butsu] is the one of Zenkou-ji that is very near to Issa's native village.There are many [ kaichoo butsu] in Japane that are secret Budhas and specially opened to the public once a year.
When they are shown, there come many people and outlaw gamblers are specially allowed to use the temple grounds for gambling.
So Japanese [kaichoo] has two meanings.
One is to show secret Budha statues .

Sakuo Nakamura

The temples would even get their share of the money from the gamblers on their grounds, called "Temple Money", terasen 寺銭, now simply called : bribes, ピンハネ, wairo 賄賂。In a play with words, the Temple Money .terasen. sounds like .terasu 照 ., to light, the money has also euphemistically been called "Light Charge" toomyoodai 灯明代.

善光寺(川口市)Zenkoji Temple in Kawaguchi




In esoteric Buddhism the deity Kankiten (Kangiten 歓喜天) is often shown as two human-like figures with an elephant head, embracing each other.
The statues of these embracing deities are usually not shown to the public, because of the sexual implication. Thye are kept in separate shrines behind closed doors, the so-called Secret Statues (hibutsu 秘仏).

There are more than 250 temples in Japan, where Ganesh is venerated.
In Kamakura at the temple Hookaij-Ji 宝戒寺 is a Kangiten Hall where you find the oldest statue of a Kankiten in Japan. He is said to be especially powerful and therefore kept locked in a tabernakel since 1333. This is located in a separate hall for the deity.

More about Kankiten and Ganesh

The Secret Kankiten at Hookai-Ji
A Mysterious Story by Gabi Greve


Zenkooji belongs to both the Tendai and Jodo Shinshu schools of Buddhism, and is co-managed by 25 priests from the former School and 14 from the latter. It enshrines images of the Amida Buddha, the primary one of which is a *hibutsu*, a hidden Buddha, which is not normally shown to the public.

This *hibutsu* is rumored to be the first Buddha statue to ever be brought to Japan. There is also a passage under the temple where worshippers, in complete darkness, try to touch a key hanging on the wall in order to gain enlightenment. The key represents the Key to the Western Paradise of the Amida Buddha.

The hidden Buddha statue is shown once every six or seven years, and attracts many worshippers. The last time it was on display, in 2003, Zenkooji joined with Motozenkooji and the Zenkooji of Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture, in discussions. The hibutsu will be on display next in 2010.

© Wikipedia


Votive Plaques, kakebotoke 懸仏
"Kakebotoke" simply means "Hanging Buddha" and refers to a plaque hanging on the wall. It can also be written 懸け仏 in Japanese. Sometimes it is translated as "Hanging Disc", since it is mostly round in shape.

Kakebotoke were also put up in front of a tabernakel with a secret Buddha statue (hibutsu 秘仏), which was not to be shown to the public. The votive plaques with a copy of the secret Buddha statue, sometimes up to 50 cm in diameter, became the object of veneration. Since they were stolen quite often they were later hung up high in the inner sanctuary (naijin 内陣) to prevent theft.

The custom of reflecting a Buddhist statue in a mirror for a special ritual is still alive today. Here is a mysterious story I heared in a temple in Kamakura. For special exorcistic rituals of esoteric Buddhism heated oil is poured over a Buddha statue. The statue in question was a secret statue, so the Kakebotoke substitue had to be used. Since the Kakebotoke statue of this temple had just been newly made and was quite pretty, the priest wanted to spare it this fate. He decided to reflect the statue in a mirror and poor the heated oil over the mirror.

It seems the Gods accepted this sacrificial offer of a substitute with another substitute and peace returned to the poor soul for which the ritual was performed.
(Read the Mysterious Story qouted above for more on this.)

Read Gabi Greve about the Kakebotoke

. Gankake 願掛け wish-prayer, to make a wish .


Secret Buddhas for 30 days
(sanjuunichi hibutsu 三十日秘仏)

The Lotus Sutra, Hokke-kyoo 法華経、describes various deities as Bosatsu concerned with light offerings.
They all belong to this group.

Light Offerings at Mt. Koya san, by Gabi Greve

Worldwide use

Things found on the way

Guze Kannon 救世観音 at the Yume-dono 夢殿, Nara

In 1884 Ernest Fenollosa (1853-1908) and Okakura Tenshin (1863-1913) obtained permission to disclose the secret statue of the Yumedono at Houryuuji.

The Yume-dono (Hall of Dreams) is octagonal in shape, the building houses the Kuze Kannon, a truly majestic gilded wooden statue. Until recently, the figure, said to be the same height as Prince Shotoku or even modelled on him, has been a hidden image, or hibutsu, which no one had seen for centuries.
Even now the Kannon is kept hidden for most of the year, except for brief periods in spring and autumn.


The Kannon with 1000 Arms,
said to have been made by Shotoku Taishi himself.

This statue is only shown every 33 years. It is made of one piece of wood and about 72 cm high.
. Secret Buddha Statue in Onomichi .


Japanese LINK to all Secret Buddha Statues and their time of showing.


tsuki kage ya shimon shishuu mo tada hitotsu

this moonlight -
four gates and four (Buddhist) sects
are also all the same

Tr. Gabi Greve

(This hokku has the cut marker YA at the end of line 1.
Just as the moon appears sometimes round, sometimes half, a sickle or not at all ... but is still tada hitotsu, the same one.)

Here in the moonlight,
the Four Gates, the Four Sects -
they'r all one.

Tr. Carter

the moon's light -
four gates, four sects
yet only one

Tr. Barnhill

in the moonlight
four gates and four sects
become one

Tr. Addiss

Des Mondes Schimmer!
Die vier Tore, vier Lehren
sind dennoch nur eins.

Tr. Dumoulin

With Enlightenment, all Buddhist sects share the same root.
Visiting in 1688.

Visiting Temples with
. Matsuo Basho - Archives of the WKD .


baba dono mo ushi ni hikarete sakura kana

granny comes too
led by a cow...
cherry blossoms

This haiku seems to allude to a popular folktale in Issa's home province of Shinano. A sinful woman left a piece of cloth to dry in the garden behind her house, but a passing cow snagged it with a horn and trotted off. The woman followed the beast all the way to Zenkooji, where it disappeared and she found herself standing before the image of Amida Buddha. From that point on, she became pious.

Kobayashi Issa 小林一茶
Tr. David Lanoue

. Legends about
the Black Cow, Black Bull  黒牛と伝説 kuro-ushi, kuroushi .

... inspired by this haiku ...

granny comes too
led by a cow —
Buddha's incarnation

Kumarendra Mallick, Hyderabad, India

atsuki yo o uta de mairu ya zenkooji

a hot night's pilgrimage
with song...
Zenko Temple

by Issa, 1816
Tr. David Lanoue

hana saku ya to aru kokage mo kaichou butsu

cherry blossoms --
under every tree
a Buddha on display


hatta hatta ya bakuchi hajimaru

bet your chip on
gamble opening

Nakamura Sakuo


chiru hana ni junreichô mo kaichô kana

into the scattering blooms
and Buddha


An image of Buddha is being carried from a temple to be displayed outside.
Tr. David Lanoue

into scattering cherry blossoms
a pilgrim's stamp book and
a secret Buddha statue

Tr. Gabi Greve

junreichoo is the book where the pilgrim gets his stamp and inscription after visiting a temple of a pilgrimage.


. WKD : Kobayashi Issa 小林一茶 in Edo .

harukaze ya ushi ni hikarete zenkouji

spring wind
taking me toward
Zenkoji Temple

Tr. Chris Drake

This hokku is from the 2nd month (March) of 1811, when Issa was in and near Edo. There is no headnote in Issa's diary, but in one edition of the hokku Issa gives the headnote translated above about the showing of the Zenkoji Amida statue beginning on the 25th of the 2nd intercalary month, an extra month which came after the ordinary 2nd month in 1811. The original Amida statue at Zenkoji is never shown to the public, but occasionally another old statue of Amida flanked by the bodhisattvas Kannon and Seishi is shown. What Issa refers to is one of these public showings.

The hokku also refers to a legend about the temple that first appears in the 12th-century Konjaku monogatari collection. A 66-year-old woman has lived near Zenkoji Temple all her life but has no interest in it, when one day a bull runs through her yard and catches in its horns a long piece of cloth she's hung out to dry. The bull keeps running, and the woman, wanting her cloth, chases the bull until finally it goes into the main hall at Zenkoji and disappears. The sun has already gone down, but when the woman goes into the hall it is bright as day, and she sees that the glistening drool of the bull forms words telling her the bull was a manifestation of the merciful bodhisattva Kannon, who wanted to lead the woman to the temple. The woman quickly forgot about her cloth and spent the night chanting Amida's name at the temple. The next day she went to the hall devoted to Kannon and found her cloth hanging from the Kannon statue there. After that the woman became sincerely devout and entered the Pure Land.

This legend was widely known, since Zenkoji was extremely popular with women pilgrims from around Japan, and in Issa's time the words in the second and third lines of his hokku had become a common metaphorical proverb meaning to be led in a good direction by chance or unexpectedly. By adding a headnote, however, Issa shows he is also writing about the temple and its image of Amida as well as invoking the abstract meaning of the proverb. Two more years will pass before Issa will return for good to his hometown (located not far from Zenkoji) and receive his inheritance, and at the time he wrote this hokku he was writing many other hokku about his longing to return. The spring wind in the hokku is ambiguous, but I take it to suggest both movement and a strong power that pulls at Issa and increases his already strong desire to return to his hometown and to view Amida's image at Zenkoji: Amida and the Pure Land and his hometown seem to be almost overlapped at one level in his mind. Issa has heard about the rare showing of the Zenkoji Amida image that will soon be made, yet he is busy in Edo and has not yet done enough preparation to be able to return to Zenkoji and to his hometown and demand his inheritance, which is being kept from him by his mother-in-law and half-brother. The fresh spring wind pulls at him as strongly as a bull, and the hokku seems to be expressing his strong will to go to Zenkoji and return to his hometown as soon as he is able to.

Three hokku later in Issa's diary:

shinano naru uguisu mo hou-hoke-kyo kana

the warblers
in Shinano too
sing lo-lotus sutra

Shinano is the mountainous province in which both Zenkoji and Issa's hometown are located.

Chris Drake

asa-samu no uchi ni mairu ya zenkouji

making a pilgrimage
in early morning cold --
Zenkoji Temple

Tr. Chris Drake

This autumn hokku was written early in the 8th month (September) in 1822, when Issa was living in his hometown. "Morning cold" refers to the first real sign of autumn cold after the lingering heat and humidity of early lunar autumn. In the middle of September in Shinano the dawns and early mornings already feel slightly cold, though they still feel only cool in Edo and other lowland areas, where "morning cold" is used a little later in autumn. The slight yet clearly perceptible cold in this hokku is usually felt when people wake up in the morning. It is not frigid but rather delicate -- just enough coldness to give people a fresh, bracing feeling of aliveness and a sense that autumn is truly here. Basically this temporary coldness is caused by contrast: it's the comparatively large drop in temperature during the night that gives people the feeling of being cold the next morning rather than any actual very low temperatures. A couple of hours after dawn this feeling of being cold will be gone, and by noon the day will be warm or perhaps even hot.

Zenkoji Temple, a very famous interdenominational Buddhist temple and a destination for pilgrims from all over Japan, isn't far from Issa's hometown, and he made many short pilgrimages there. I take the hokku to be from Issa's point of view, since it's about a bracing feeling a person gets rather than an objective description.

Issa often visited several students who lived near Zenkoji, so he probably stayed the night at the house of one of them and made a dawn or early morning pilgrimage. The exclamatory ya probably expresses how grateful Issa feels for being able to make his short pilgrimage in such invigorating weather. He surely feels revivified by going to the large temple and praying to the ancient Amida Buddha statue there, which is so precious it is kept in a special vault -- and he is also surely energized by the sharp clarity of the air and the stimulating early morning cold, which may synesthetically suggest Amida's own soft, all-piercing light.

Chris Drake

hana saku ya to aru kokage mo kaichoobutsu

cherry blossoms --
beneath one tree
a statue of a Buddha

Tr. Chris Drake

This spring hokku is from Issa's handwritten hokku collection, and no date is given. Another version is found in Issa's diary for 1818, and still another version appears early in Year of My Life, where a headnote says, "Pilgrimage to Hoshina on 3/17." This headnote indicates that all three versions of the hokku are about the showing of a very old statue of the bodhisattva Kannon (Avalokiteshavra) carved by the famous wandering monk Gyouki in 742, when he founded Seisuiji Temple (清水寺) in Hoshina, an area that is now part of the city of Nagano, about ten miles from Issa's hometown.

The temple belongs to the Shingon school, but its mountain-name is Amida Mountain, so it must have been center of Amida worship -- and Kannon, of course, is one of Amida's two main helpers. The fragile old statue Issa went to see and pray to shows the compassionate Kannon with a thousand arms -- symbolizing infinite arms -- which she uses to aid and save suffering humans and animals everywhere. The statue was shown only rarely, and in the present case the showing was timed so it would coincide with the blooming of the cherry trees. When Issa made his pilgrimage to the temple he was at first impressed by the beauty of the cherry blossoms at the temple, but he was obviously much more impressed when he saw that the ancient statue of Kannon, no doubt inside a case, had been brought outside placed beneath one of the blossoming trees.

In most cases showings of famous old Buddha statues (a category that includes bodhisattvas and other important Buddhist beings) were made for several weeks, so at night and on rainy days the Kannon statue at Seisuiji Temple must have been placed inside the temple's main hall. The outdoors showing of this Kannon statue is one more example of how, in premodern Japan, blossoming cherry trees themselves were widely regarded to be visiting gods.

Chris Drake

. WKD : Kobayashi Issa 小林一茶 in Edo .


kaichoo no hibutsu ya hana no ame to nari

the secret statue
shown only today -
rain on the cherry blossoms

(Tr. Gabi Greve)

Copyright(c)2001-2005, powerwings.net


o shoonin no tabi no shundei go-kaichoo

spring mud
on the socks of the priest -
showing the secret statue

(Tr. Gabi Greve)

Seiji せいじ

O-shoonin can be a Saint, but often also used for the head priest of a great temple.


At Hinata Yakushi Temple, Kanagawa 日向薬師

Yakushidoo ame no sakura ni go-kaichoo

Yakushi Hall -
cherry blossoms in the rain
when the statue is shown

Kobayashi Aiko 小林愛子

Yakushi is the Buddha of Healing. This temple is situated quite far in the mountains. It is usually very quiet with few tourists. I visited this place frequently for its quietude and spiritual atmosphere.
Look at some photos of the area.
Gabi Greve


kaichou ya kumoi no tori no koe kobore

Das öffnen der Flügeltüre -
Die Stimmen der Vögel
im Wolkensitz laufen über.
(übersetzt: UENO Yuhko)

showing a secret Buddha -
the voices of all the birds
filling the venerable sky

(Tr. Gabi Greve)

木 村 蕪 城 (1913~) KIMURA Bujou

Related words

***** Pilgrimage (henro, junrei) Pilgrims.

***** . Namu Amida Butsu 南無阿弥陀仏 the Amida Prayer .

***** . Oojooji 往生寺 Temple Ojo-Ji .
Nagano - for a safe passage to the Amida Paradise in the West after death
Gokuraku oojoo 極楽往生 gokuraku-ojo 

***** . Hana no ame, rain on the cherry blossoms .





Unknown said...



Anonymous said...

midsummer ...
the road to the temple
heavy with prayers

the patience
of the stones
temple road

Ella Wagemakers

Anonymous said...

yama warau hibutsu dainichi nyorai toka

mountains laughing -
the secret statue of
Dainichi Nyoria ... they say

© Kanda Shoori 金田勝利

quote from

Anonymous said...

Zenko-Ji and the Olympics 2008

Quote from Japan Times, April 19

Citing Tibet, temple spurns Olympic torch
Run won't be starting at Nagano's Zenkoji
Compiled from Kyodo, AP
NAGANO — Zenkoji, the city of Nagano's main temple, declined Friday to serve as the starting point of the Japan leg of the torch relay for the Beijing Olympics, citing safety concerns and the crackdown on Buddhists in Tibet.

Zenkoji Temple's decision will force organizers to alter the route with just eight days to go before the relay, which has been marred by protests in other parts of the world.

"Indiscriminate killings were undertaken in Tibet," Shinsho Wakaomi, a Zenkoji official, told reporters at City Hall. "We were concerned about the crackdown on Buddhists in Tibet who rose up."

Wakaomi said the temple, which played a role in opening the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics by ringing its bell, received more than 100 calls about the torch relay, including protests over its earlier plan to use its premises for the starting ceremony.

He also cited as reasons for the refusal the protection of cultural assets and safety of worshippers.

The municipal Olympic planning committee has accepted Zenkoji Temple's decision. The city has picked four alternative candidate sites for the starting point, Nagano Mayor Shoichi Washizawa said.

"We'd like to decide on the starting point as soon as possible," Washizawa told a news conference Friday afternoon. In Tokyo, the government said it planned to provide adequate security for the relay.

"The relay went smoothly in some spots and got disrupted in other places overseas. We want to prevent disruptions with thorough security," Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said.

Later in the day, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda urged Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, who is visiting Japan, to make further efforts to resolve the Tibet issue.

Fukuda said Yang told him China wants to quickly resolve issues related to Tibet.

Commenting on Zenkoji's decision, Fukuda said it is regrettable because the torch relay "should have been something for everyone to enjoy."

Under the original plan, events including the torch lighting ceremony were to have taken place at a site set up in the temple's compound from 8 a.m. on April 26.

The torch run was to start from Zenkoji Temple at 8:30 a.m., covering 18.5 km.

Anonymous said...

flowering rape--
and looking west
Zenko Temple

na no hana ya nishi e mukaeba Zenkooji

by Issa
Tr. David Lanoue

Anonymous said...

inazuma ya ichi mokusan ni Zenkooji

lightning flash--
a quick overview
of Zenko Temple

by Issa, 1815
The word mokusan ("calculation") has a narrow meaning in the jargon of the Japanese game, go: a calculating survey of the board; see Kogo dai jiten (Shogakukan 1983) 1621.
Perhaps Issa is playing with this meaning in his haiku: the lightning flashes in the night, revealing the entire temple complex for a quick, strategic survey.

Tr. and Comment by
David Lanoue

Anonymous said...

hotoke sae o-rusu shi ni keri akibiyori

even the Buddha
ventures outside...
clear fall weather

This haiku has the prescript, "Autumn."
Though he wrote it in spring (Second Month 1820), Issa imagines an autumn scene. He seems to have been inspired by a visit to Zenkooji (Zenko Temple), the major Pure Land Temple in his home province of Shinano. The haiku that immediately precedes it in the diary refers to Buddha leaving Zenkooji.

Kobayashi Issa
(Tr. David Lanoue)

Gabi Greve said...

kono kata ga Zenkooji ya choo no tobu

"I am going to
temple Zenko-Ji!"
a butterfly leads the way

Kobayashi Issa
(Tr. Gabi Greve)

Gabi Greve - Issa said...

Kobayashi Issa

nanohana ya nishi em ukaeba zenkouji

rapeseed flowers --
when I turn toward the west
I'm in Zenkoji Temple

rapeseed flowers --
when I turn toward the west
Zenkoji Temple

Comment by Chris Drake
I felt I had to translate this hokku in a minimum of two ways, both of which are valid. The first translation fills in what I take to be suggested by Issa, while the second is more narrowly literal. I can't choose between them, though I like the first better, since I feel it's probably closer to Issa's implicit spiritual image. The Japanese is elliptical, and the verb has several main meanings, so the hokku can be accurately translated in various ways.

in the forum :

Gabi Greve - Issa said...

kono hou ga zenkouji to ya chou no tobu

hey, this one's the path
to Zenkoji Temple --
the butterfly flits on

This hokku was written in the 1st month of 1815, when Issa was living in his hometown. His diary shows he made a pilgrimage to Zenkoji Temple (about 14 miles away from his hometown) on 1/6-7, so this hokku is probably about that short pilgrimage. Zenkoji is a large, very old ecumenical temple run jointly by the Tendai school and Honen's Pure Land school of Buddhism. It has what is reputed be the oldest Buddhist statue in Japan, a statue of Amida Buddha flanked by two bodhisattvas (Kannon and Seishi) that is too fragile to be shown. Instead, an exact and itself rather old copy of the statue is shown to the public for a month every six years (by western counting).

Issa's first-month pilgrimage was not, however, made to see such a showing. In Issa's time large numbers of pilgrims from all over Japan, especially women, made pilgrimages to Zenkoji at all times of the year.

MORE by Chris Drake !

Gabi Greve - Darumapedia said...

Hibutsu statue of
Fudo Myo-O 不動明王
at temple
Kookenji 弘憲寺 Koken-Ji

Gabi Greve - Darumapedia said...

Tanuki legend from
Aichi 愛知県

Once an old hag came by the tea shop of an old man and asked the way to the temple Zenko-Ji in Nagano. After a few days she was back, quite exhausted. When the old man gave her some sake to relax, she became very tired and fell asleep. In her sleep she revealed her true form - a tanuki. The old man wanted to catch her alive and went to get some help. But by the time they returned the tanuki (and the old woman) were nowhere to be seen any more.

Gabi Greve said...

Mark Schumacher about Zenko-Ji

Says the Washington Post: People come to pass through the pitch-black hallway that houses the famous golden triad, which is known as the Ikkō (Ikko) Sanzon Amida Nyorai 一光三尊阿弥陀三尊 and is considered the first Buddhist image ever to enter Japan (it arrived from Korea in +552). The image is never shown to the public; instead, visitors are requested to remove their shoes and descend a staircase into total darkness, then make their way down a twisted hallway with only the touch of their fingertips on the rough walls as a guide. The tunnel is beneath the altar that holds the triad, and there is a sense of near-total sensory deprivation as visitors make their way through blackness, hoping that their fingertips will brush the lock that graces the wall directly beneath the image. Those who touch the lock are said to be guaranteed a place in paradise.

and more

Gabi Greve - Darumapedia said...

hato 鳩  dove, pidgeon art motives art motives - Taube

from Zenko-Ji

Gabi Greve said...

Kobayashi Issa

go-inmon no atama ni hana no chiri ni keri

onto a head
touched by Amida's seal
falls a cherry petal!

This hokku is from a calligraphically written anthology Issa made of hokku he'd written up until 1825. It was probably written after Issa moved back to his hometown in 1813, since he often visited Zenkoji Temple from his nearby hometown. A similar hokku can be found in Issa's diary for 1815.

The hokku refers to a famous ritual held at Zenkoji Temple, a temple run by both the Tendai school and by Honen's Pure Land school, during the second week of the new lunar year and during showings of replicas of the temple's ancient statue of Amida Buddha. It's likely that Issa had seen this ceremony carried out, and he may have taken part in it. At this time pilgrims would line up in a long line and pass one by one in front of a priest just inside the entrance to the temple's main hall. As each pilgrim stopped in front of the priest and waited, the priest held out a small red brocade bag or pouch that held three golden seals -- the seal of Amida Buddha and the seals of Kannon and Seishi, two bodhisattva helpers of Amida -- and placed the seals on the believer's head. This act was believed to ensure that the believer would go to the Pure Land of Amida Buddha after s/he died, and large numbers of pilgrims visited the temple while this ritual was being carried out.

In the hokku, a believer, perhaps a woman, since men tended to shave the tops of their heads, has left the main hall of the temple after having had the seals of Amida and his two helpers placed on her head, and now she walks away from the hall. The cherry trees in the temple precincts are in bloom, and a petal from one of the trees lands in her hair in the same place where the priest has just placed the seals. To Issa the petal seems to be a minor miracle. He doesn't comment on the exact meaning of the petal, but there is a slight correspondence between the red bag that hold the seals and the light pinkish hue of the cherry blossom. Is Issa suggesting that the petal, unknown to the pilgrim, confirms the pilgrim's belief that she will be reborn in the Pure Land? Or is he implying that with the petal in her hair she is already in the Pure Land on this earth at Zenkoji Temple?

In the photo a contemporary priest at Zenkoji Temple places a red pouch with three gold seals in it representing the power and grace of Amida Buddha onto the head of a pilgrim:

Chris Drake

Gabi Greve - Darumapedia said...

Ajari-ike 阿闍梨池 The Ajari Pond
In 1198 建久9(1198)年正月18日,Saint Koen Ajari became a dragon thanks to his faith in 弥勒菩薩 Miroku Bosatsu. He came to the 善光寺如来堂 Nyorai Hall in the temple Zenko-Ji.
He walked around seven time and then went into the Ajarigaike pond, which was in fact a swamp. This swamp is now quite small, but if people perform 如来印文 certain rites of Nyorai for 17 days, it will become full of water. This happens because this pond in Nagano is said to be linked to the Sakuragaike in Shizuoka (遠州 Enshu), where he died.
Higo Ajari 肥後阿闍梨 / 備後阿闍 the Ajari of Higo, Acharya of Higo
Kooen, Kōen 皇円 Saint Koen

Gabi Greve said...

Hokkoku Kaido 北国街道 Hokkoku Highway Roads
The road was sometimes called “Zenkoji Kaido,”善光寺街道 because it was used by the pilgrims visiting Zenkoji Temple in Nagano City. At the present, Route 18 traces about the same route as the Edo period Hokkoku Kaido.

Gabi Greve said...

nunohiki ushi / nuno hiki 布引き牛 cow pulling cloth

souvenir toy from Zenko-Ji.

Gabi Greve said...

Zenkooji 善光寺 Zenko-Ji Temple Legends