Kanji for Muryoko

'Infinite Light'

Journal of Shin Buddhism

Hisao (Zuio) Inagaki

Two Buddhist Festivals

Hana-matsuri means "Flower Festival". It is the popular name for the Buddha's birthday celebration, which falls on 8th April and is traditionally called bussho-e, tanjo-e, kanbutsu-e and Shakuson gotan-e.

The first hana-matsuri celebration was held in Hibiya Park, Tokyo, in 1917 by a joint group of Buddhists, headed by Ando Ryogan and Watanabe Kaikyoku. This, however, was proceded by a birthday celebration for the Buddha held in Berlin in 1901 by a group of 18 Japanese scholars who were studying there at the time, such as Sonoda Shue, Haga Yaichi, Anezaki Masaharu, Minobe Tatsukichi, Matasumoto Bunzaburo, Ikeyama Eikichi and Chikazumi Jokan. They called this celebration "Blumfest," "Flower Festival", which is the origin of Hana-matsuri.

The Term is also used for the Shinto ceremonies held in December and Jaunary in parts of Aichi Prefecture.

- From "A Dictionary of Japanese Buddhist Terms", Hisao Inagaki, 1984, p.494.


Ho-onko, literally, "Dharma-gathering for acknowledging indebtedness," was traditionally observed in older schools. Some examples are the annual service conducted at the Enryakuji on Mt. Hiei in the memory of Master T'ien-t'ai, the founder of the Tendai school, and the one held in the Shingi Shingon school for Kakuban, its founder, on his memorial day.

Honen's disciples met on his memorial day to remember their indebtedness to the master.

In Jodoshinshu a similar service came to be held on Shinran's memorial day, January 16 or the 28th day of the 11th month in the lunar calendar. The first formal service was conducted in 1294 by Kakunyo, the third monshu, to commemorate the 33rd year of the founder's death. He composed Hoonko-shiki (Ho-onko Ritual) to stipulate the ritual procedure and performed services for seven days at the Otani Mausoleum. This became the precedent for the annual event of Ho-onko at every temple.

Today, at the head temples of the Hompa Hongwanji and the Takada School, the Ho-onko service is held from 9th to the 16th January, while at the Otaniha Hongwanji, Bukkoji and Koshoji temples, they hold services from 21st to 28th November. At local temples, however, Ho-onko is usually held before the prescribed dates, and the period of the service has been shortened from seven days to three days, and even to one day.

The service consists of chanting a sutra and reciting Shinran's biography, and is followed by a Dharma-talk and a meal. During the Ho-onko season, scrolls of the pictorial presentation of his biography (Shinran-e Den) are usually displayed in the inner sanctuary of each temple, and often the resident priest explains them to the audience.

Kakunyo's Ho-onko Ritual consists of five parts: 1. general adoration, 2. triple bowing, 3. praise of Amida's glorious body, 4. statement, and 5. merit-transference. In the statement, Kakunyo especially praises Shinran's three virtues: 1. the virtue of promulgating the Shinshu teaching, 2. The virtue of complying with the Primal Vow, and 3. the virtue of benefiting people after his death.

In his Letters, Rennyo expended many words in cautioning Shinshu followers against lax attitudes at the time of Ho-onko. He emphasized the significance of the Ho-onko, which he says is that one should resolve the problem of shinjin - the absolute entrusting heart (Letters, III-11, IV-6, 7, and 8). To become keenly aware of this problem of "birth-and-death" and attain Faith is of paramount importance, and is indeed what "acknowledging our indebtedness to Shinran" really means. The seven-day Ho-onko period offers a special chance for every Shinshu member to reflect on his or her "existential" problem and realize how deeply one is indebted to Shinran for helping this this problem to be reolved.

Return to the list of main articles.