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Inland Sea: Kobo Daishi Festival on May 4

April 27, 2010

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 peopleย  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.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 27, 2010 7:35 pm

    Same kind of festival at a temple in Yoshino mountain, Nara.

    The monk Kouboudaishi traveled around the country and trained so there are many places that related to him. At Muroro Bay in Kochi Shikoku, there is a cave that he used to train, and there is the biggest statue of him in the whole country. I have photos. I can send you by Twitter or to your yahoo.
    Now I am sending a quick info from iPod.

  2. ruth gottstein permalink
    April 28, 2010 8:37 am

    Please send me photos or whatever you have on the Kobo Daishi. I have just ordered myself a birthday present in the form of a 19th century little bust of the Kobo.

  3. May 2, 2010 6:28 am

    Okidoki bhaaa. I am a sheep. (^_^)
    I will send you nice ones for your birthday.
    I just went hiking to Hirokawa dera temple in southern Osaka. That’s his the last destination and have his grave mound. The garden looks marverous, and there is a Kobo (nickname Saigyo hoshi (I guess it means mainly trained in Southern part of the country. Sai means West, hoshi means monk in old word.) ) library, there are nice old Japanese style picture books on his traveling, sculpture, scroll pictures, etc. The liburary opens certain times of the year only.

    The temple is in my town, but I have been looking at more western culture and was not interested until I have a Mexican Samurai boyfriend now. ; p) Kobo was here in this town until his death, so there are several monument atound.

  4. humorusguidetojapan permalink*
    May 14, 2010 11:36 am

    We should also mention that the Kobo Daishi Festival on Shiraishi goes for a few hours. The first two hours are just a lot of chanting by Buddhist priests ๐Ÿ˜‰ They also perform the Shiraishi Dance at the bottom of the daishi-do (Okunoin). The festival gets interesting at around noon when they start the goma fire ceremony.

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