Inland Sea: Kobo Daishi Festival on May 4
Photo: A yamabushi prepares to light the goma fire
The Kobo Daishi festival on Shiraishi Island honors the founder of Shingon Buddhism. Kobo Daishi is the posthumous name of Kukai (774-835), the wandering priest who 1,000 years ago visited temples in Shikoku thus creating the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage, which pilgrims still walk today.
Kobo Daishi also visited Kairyuji Temple on Shiraishi Island while on a ship headed for Kyoto to ask the emperor permission to form the new Shingon sect of Buddhism. Kairyuji temple has a “Daishi-do” in his honor and a small pilgrimage that encircles the island and comprises 88 shrines to commemorate his Shikoku route.
For the festival, yamabushi ascetic priests shoot arrows into the air while blowing through bullhorns, and a giant juzu bead rope, which is believed to have spiritual powers to purify and protect people from 108 sins, is passed around a goma sacred bonfire.
Buddhist priests clothed in yellow-and-purple silk robes beat drums while attendees chant the Hanya Shingyo sutra. Dozens of people gathered to pass another set of giant juzu beads around the fire while the priests continue to feed the fire with more sticks. The bigger the fire, the more vigorously everyone chants and passes the juzu.
This is a great local ceremony that is not publicized, so if you attend, you’ll probably be one of very few foreigners there. It is a highly interesting festival which can be done in conjunction with a trip to the Moooo! Bar, the Humor-Us Headquarters. Come on out and party with the cows this Golden Week while enjoying the beauty and spirituality of Shiraishi Island!
Shiraishi Island is located in Okayama Prefecture, and is one of the Kasaoka islands. See our entry on Manabe Island, which is also a part of this chain.
For ferry schedules, see the Moooo! Bar website, the only website in English about this small island in the Seto Inland Sea. Accommodation ranges from 2,500 yen budget minshukus on the beach to ryokan and cottage rentals. Shiraishi is also home to one of the International Villas. Camping is also available.