Zenkō-ji Gokaicho: A Once Every 7 Years Event

Zenkō-ji, a Buddhist temple in Nagano, Japan, was initially built in the 7th century. Nagano City was built around it. It is significant in Japanese history for serving as one of the bases of operation of Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen, two of the most influential and powerful daimyos of the Sengoku period in the 16th century. Zenkō-ji  is one of the last few pilgrimage sites in Japan today.

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Zenkō-ji was founded way before Buddhism split into several different sects in Japan. Zenkō-ji currently belongs to the Jōdoshū and Tendai schools of Buddhism.  Twenty-five priests from the Tendai school and fourteen from the Jōdoshū school co-manage Zenkō-ji together.

Zenkō-ji Temple. | Image provided by Michael G. Khmelnitsky.

Zenkō-ji  is also famous for the hibutsu named Ikkosanzon Amitabha. The Hibutsu (secret Buddha), a hidden Buddha statue made of wood, has not been shown to the public since 654. It is believed to be the very first Buddha statue ever brought to Japan. The image features the standing image of Amitabha in front of a halo, flanked by Avalokitesvara to the right and Mahasthamaprapta on the left.

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The Hibutsu, or the Main Image of Zenkō-ji, was brought to the country from India through the Korean peninsula in the 6th century, during the reign of Emperor Kimmei. It was further moved several more times before it arrived in its present location in Nagano city. The commandments of the temple explicitly prohibit showing the statue to anyone including the chief priest of the temple, and absolute secrecy of the hibutsu is closely guarded. A replica of the statue (Maedachi Honzon) was created and is publicly shown only once in seven years during spring in a ceremony known as Gokaichō.

Roku-jizo in Zenkō-ji. | jpellgen

2324046736_5437a3931c_zThe Zenkoji Temple Maedachi Honzon  was created in the Kamakura period. The “Sacred Replica” of the Hibutsu is designated an Important Cultural Property of Japan. The Zenkoji Temple Maedachi Honzon Gokaichō  is an event that welcomes the Maedachi Honzon statue to the Main Hall of the temple. This happens once every seven years; many look forward to the chance to worship the “Sacred Replica” directly. This year marks another Zenkoji Temple Maedachi Honzon Gokaichō event beginning the 5th of May. The Gokaichō attracts millions of worshippers over its 57-day period when visitors are allowed the opportunity to touch a pillar (eko-bashira) erected in front of the Main Hall that is connected to the statue by a special cord.

Lining up to see the Buddha. | go_adb_go