花祭り【Hana-matsuri (the anniversary of the birth of Buddha)】

April 8th is the anniversary of Buddha’s birth. Japanese people have great respect for Buddha, and he is often respectfully called o-shaka-sama. The prefix o and the suffix sama are both polite expressions that show respect. The shaka in the middle of o-shaka-sama is interpreted as Sakyamuni which is another name for Buddha. Buddhists call Buddha’s birthday kanbutsue. They visit temples and pour special tea onto the statues of the newborn Buddha on kanbutsue. The tea prepared for kanbutsue is called amacha. It tastes a little sweet. People in the later Meiji era, around 1900, confused the kanbutsue with another event called hana-matsuri that literally means flower festival. Both kanbutsue and hana-matsuri were popular then and were held in the same season every year. Since then, April 8th, Buddha’s birthday, has been known as hana-matsuri.

4月8日はお釈迦様の誕生日です。仏教ではこれを潅仏会(かんぶつえ)と呼んでいます。この日には、信者がお寺に参拝し、釈迦誕生仏像にお茶を掛ける行事が行われます。釈迦の像に注ぐお茶は、甘茶(あまちゃ)と呼ばれる甘みのあるお茶です。明治時代の後期頃、仏教の潅仏会とこの季節の同じ頃に行われていた民間行事の「花祭り」が混同され、潅仏会の日である4月8日が「花祭り」と呼ばれるようになりました。

Temple sanctuaries are decorated with many flowers on kanbutsue, the Buddhist hana-matsuri. The sanctuaries full of flowers are called hana-mido, and statues of the newborn Buddha are placed there. The statues of Buddha are placed in basins that contain special tea (amacha) or perfume. People pour amacha or perfume onto the statues of the newborn Buddha with bamboo ladles. This comes from the legend that a ryu in the heavens poured perfumed warm water onto Buddha when he was a newborn baby. Some temples also have imitation white elephants placed on their grounds on that day.

仏教の花祭りすなわち潅仏会では、お堂を花でいっぱいに飾ります。花で飾られたお堂は花御堂(はなみどう)と呼ばれ、その中に水盤に載せた釈迦の誕生像を置きます。参拝客は、この誕生仏に竹のひしゃくで甘茶または香水を掛けます。お茶や香水を仏像に掛けることは、天に上った竜が生まれたばかりのお釈迦様に香湯を注いだという伝説にちなんだものです。お寺によっては、境内に白い象の作り物を置くところもあります。

The other hana-matsuri comes from a belief that was propagated among people in ancient times. People believed that a god came from the mountains to the villages in spring to protect their rice fields and then returned to the mountains in autumn to protect the mountains. People put up tall bamboo poles on their land on the day of hana-matsuri to welcome the god coming to their villages. The tops of the bamboo poles are decorated with flowers picked in the mountains. This event was not originally held on a specific day. It has probably been held on April 8th since this hana-matsuri and the Buddhist kanbutsue were confused.

民間行事の花祭りは、「春になると神様が山から里に下りてきて田の守護神となり、秋になると山に帰って山の守護神となる」という信仰に基づいています。花祭りの日には、人々は山に登って花を摘み、これを長い竹の先端に付けて庭に立てます。このようにして山の神様を里に迎え入れるのです。かつて民間行事の花祭りは、特定の日に行われていませんでした。仏教の潅仏会と混同されたことによって、4月8日に行われるようになったと考えられています。

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