Emperor Shomu Festival, Nara Tōdai-ji Temple. Don’t miss the 300-Buddhist monks’ procession!

The Emperor Shomu Festival is a Buddhist memorial service held annually for Emperor Shomu on May 2 at Tōdai-ji Temple in Nara Prefecture. The famous Great Buddha of Tōdai-ji Temple was built at the wish of Emperor Shomu, the emperor who ruled during Nara Period (710-794). This Buddhist memorial service is held at the Ten-no Hall at the eastern side of the Nandaimon Gate. Ten-no Hall is usually closed to the public, but it is open for worship exclusively during the memorial service. You also can appreciate a procession of a group of Buddhist monks, Japanese court dance and music, and Noh play (Japanese traditional masked dance-drama) at the stage on the Kagami Pond.

2017-07-26   Festivals & Events, Nara,

The beautiful procession by monks and children in traditional costumes.

’Ban’ flags

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

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!

An adorable child in a traditional costume led by her mother’s hand.
Women playing the role of Monomoude Onna.

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.

Monk soldiers with white cowls on their head following monks wearing black kimonos.
Monk soldiers

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!

The Great Buddha is surprisingly big! The beautiful statues at Nara Todai-ji temple.

A famous meeting point at Kintetsu Nara station: The statue of “Gyōki”

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I love Japanese folkcraft article, traditional handicrafts and antiques. I’m seeking the Japanese people’s religious outlooks and its origins that are behind Japanese people’s unique sense and techniques rooted in the ordinary life.


Address 406-1 Zoshi-cho, Nara City, Nara Prefecture
Hours Nov-Feb/ 8:30am-4:30pm
Mar/ 8:30am-5:00pm
Apr-Sept/ 7:30am-5:30pm
Oct/ 7:30am-5:00pm
Price Adults and students above junior high school students: 500 yen
Elementary school students: 300 yen
*Discounts available for group of more than 30 people
Close .
Access ・20 min. walk from the Kintetsu Nara station.
・From the JR or Kintetsu Nara station, take a city route bus and get off at Daibutsuden Kasugataisha-mae. It’s a 5-min. walk from there.
Phone 0742-22-5511
Website http://www.todaiji.or.jp/english/