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The beautiful procession by monks and children in traditional costumes.
Enormous flags are hoisted at Tōdai-ji Temple in the morning of the festival. These flags, which are called Ban in Japanese, resemble banners made of cloth. They are used for decorative purposes in religious rituals and used as offerings to Buddha. Rongi Hoyo, also known as the Debate Memorial Service, is held at Ten-no Hall from 8:00 am to 11:30 am, and the procession starts at 1:00 pm. The procession then leaves Nara Prefectural New Public Hall, passes through Nandaimon gate, and heads to the Great Buddha Hall. When the procession approaches the Great Buddha Hall, the Japanese court dance and music start on the stage on the Kagami Pond.
The procession involves about 300 people! It is composed of monk soldiers, court musicians, children and their mothers, and Miss Nara from the beauty pageant in Nara.
It definitely is worthwhile watching!
Monomoude Onnna were aristocratic women who wore costumes when visiting temples and shrines. They wore veils hanging from their sedge hats to repel insects, to create sunshade, and to cover their faces. Noble women in this era had to hide their face from all men other than their husbands.
Monks who play the role of monk soldiers wore black kimonos with white cowls on their heads. In the Heian Period (794-1185), monk soldiers became active in Nara and Kyoto areas. Defensive monks were necessary to protect the land that the temples eventually came to possess. Monk soldiers spread all over the country and continued to do so until the period of warring states (1467/1493-1590). Tōdai-ji Temple is known to have had many monk soldiers.
Followed by Ebugyo (Supervisors of the Ceremony) and Shikishu (assistant monks).
At the end of the procession, the chief abbot of Kegon (a sect of Buddhism) sits on the portable shrine follows, and the procession is completed. The red traditional Japanese umbrellas in the procession contrast with the color of monks’ costumes. This procession with 300 monks is a rare opportunity. It is a spectacular view!
The Emperor Shomu’s wish
The mother of Shomu was from the Fujiwara family, which was skillful in schemes and tactics. Shomu was born in 701 from a political marriage. He was only 7 years old at the time of his father’s death. His mother suffered from a mental disorder after giving birth and Shomu couldn’t meet her until he was 37.
After assuming the throne, he was trifled with the game of politics of the Fujiwara family. A devastating earthquake, great droughts, starvations, and plagues also happened in succession during his reign. Meanwhile, Shomu tried to pacify and preserve the country by the divine protection of Buddha. So, he issued an imperial decree to build the Great Buddha in 734. In 754, a ceremony to consecrate a newly made Buddhist statue by inserting the eyes was held on a grand scale. Shomu died at the age 56 on May 2, 756, based on the lunar calendar.
Tōdai-ji Temple was built to wish prosperity for all living things. Shomu aimed to build a mutually dependent country where people are considerate to each other, do not fight each other out of greed and prosper together. The Emperor Shomu Festival is a memorial service honoring his great achievements and philosophy on goodness.
Be sure to visit Tōdai-ji Temple!