List of Japanese Buddhist Holidays

Sometimes I just like to write reference posts for people searching for information on the Internet. This is one of them. There’s not a lot of consistent or comprehensive information about Japanese Buddhist holidays, even in the popular Zen Buddhist tradition, so here’s a compilation of major Buddhist holidays in Japan. I compiled separate lists for sect-specific holidays below the general list. This list is not comprehensive, and I may update from time to time, but here’s what I have been able to aggregate and collect:

To view the Japanese characters, just use Firefox web browser or any modern browser and select “UTF8″ encoding. You do not need to install any special fonts. :)

General Buddhist holidays celebrated by all sects

  • Jan. 1stGantan-e (元旦会) or Shushō-e (修正会), Japanese New Year. All devout Buddhists celebrate the new year and strive to put the Dharma into practice.
  • Feb. 15thNehan-e (涅槃会), Nirvana Day, Memorial for the Buddha. This is the day at the Buddha was said to have passed away into Parinirvana (final Nirvana).
  • Mar. 21st, approximatelyOhigan (お彼岸) or Higan-e (彼岸会), The Spring Equinox celebration.
  • Apr. 8thHanamatsuri (花祭り), Kanbutsu-e (潅仏会) or Busshō-e (仏生会), The Buddha’s Birthday, probably the biggest holiday of the year.
  • July – Aug.Obon (お盆) or Urabon-e (盂蘭盆会), Obon season.
  • Sept. 21st, approximatelyOhigan (お彼岸) or Higan-e (彼岸会), The Autumnal Equinox celebration.
  • Dec. 8thShaka-Jōdō-e (釈迦成道会) or just Jōdō-e (成道会), Bodhi Day or Enlightenment Day
  • Dec. 31stJōya-e (除夜会) or Sechibun-E (節分会), End of the Year Celebration. Buddhists will stay up until midnight and ring the large temple bell in their neighborhood.

Please feel free to comment and let me know if I missed anything. Note that if you are new to Buddhism, you don’t have to observe these holidays at all if you don’t want to. Also, many Western and even Asian Buddhists celebrate holidays like Christmas as well.

For holidays celebrated by individual sects of Japanese Buddhism:

Jodo Shinshu

  • Jan. 9thHoonko (報恩講), Annual Memorial for founder, Shinran.
  • April 13-15thRikkyō Kaishū (立教開宗), Establishment of the Jodo Shinshu sect.
  • April 17-18thEitaikyō (永代経), the “Perpetual Memorial Service” for those who taught and upheld the Buddhist teachings, as well as one’s ancestors whose efforts made this life possible.
  • May 20thShushō Gōtan-e (宗祖降誕会) or just Gōtan-e (降誕会), Birth of founder, Shinran.

Jodo Shu

  • Jan. 25thGyoki-e (御忌会), Annual Memorial for founder, Honen.
  • Mar. 14thZendōki (善導式), Memorial for Chinese Pure Land master, Shan-Tao, whose writings deeply inspired Honen’s thought.
  • Apr. 7thShushō Gōtan-e (宗祖 降誕会) or just Gōtan-e (降誕会), Birth of founder, Honen.
  • Oct – NovJūya-e (十夜会), Ten Night Recitation. Practitioners hold special recitation of the nembutsu for ten consecutive nights.

Shingon

  • Mar. 21stKyu Shōmiei-ku (旧正御影供), Annual Memorial for founder Kūkai (Shingon only), also falls on the 21st day of the third lunar month traditionally.
  • June 15thAoba Matsuri (青葉祭り), Birth of founder, Kūkai.

Soto Zen

  • Jan. 26thKōso Gōtan-e (高祖降誕会) – Birth of founder, Dogen.
  • Sept. 26thRyōso-ki (両祖忌), the “Two Founders” Memorial, celebrating the lives of Soto Zen’s first two patriarchs, Dogan the founder and Keizan.
  • Oct. 5thDaruma-ki (達磨忌), the Memorial to celebrate the life of the famous Zen monk, Bodhidharma, from India.
  • Dec. 8thRōhatsu Sesshin (臘八摂心), a special intensive meditation retreat held on the same day as Bodhi Day to honor the Buddha’s Enlightenment.

Tendai

  • June 4th – Sange-E (山家会), Memorial day for Dengyo Daishi (the founderr – Saicho)
  • Nov. 24th – Shimotsuki-E (霜月会), Memorial of Chinese Founder, Kōso Tendai Chisha Daishi (高祖天台智者大師).

Nichiren

  • Feb. 16thShūso Gōtan-e (宗祖降誕会), Nichiren’s Birthday.
  • Apr. 28thRikkyō Kaishū (立教開宗), Establishment of the Nichiren sect.
  • May 12thIzu Hōnan-e (伊豆法難会), Commemoration of Nichiren Shonin’s Exile to Izu Peninsula.
  • Aug. 27thMatsubagayatsu Hōnan-e (松葉が谷法難会), Commemoration of Matsubagayatsu Persecution.
  • Sept. 12thTatsunokuchi Hōnan-e (龍口法難会), Commemoration of Tatsunokuchi Persecution
  • Oct. 10thSadō Hōnan-e (佐渡法難会), Commemoration of Nichiren Shonin’s Exile to Sado Island.
  • Oct. 13thOeshiki (お会式), Annual Memorial for founder, Nichiren.
  • Nov. 11thKomatsubara Hōnan-e (小松原法難会), Commemoration of Komatsubara Persecution

Rinzai Zen

  • Jan. 10thRinzai-ki (臨済忌), Annual Memorial for founder, Eisai.
  • Jan. 17thHyakujo-ki (百丈忌), Memorial for famous Chinese monk Baizhang Huaihai (Hyakujo in Japanese).
  • Oct. 5thDaruma-ki (達磨忌), the Memorial to celebrate the life of the famous Zen monk, Bodhidharma, from India.
  • Dec. 8thRōhatsu Sesshin (臘八摂心), a special intensive meditation retreat held on the same day as Bodhi Day to honor the Buddha’s Enlightenment.

You can also find more on Japanese Buddhist calendars for individual sects here:

Enjoy!

Namuamidabu

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About Doug

A Buddhist, father and Japanophile / Koreaphile.
This entry was posted in Buddhism, Jodo Shinshu, Jodo Shu, Nichiren, Religion, Shingon, Tendai, Zen. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to List of Japanese Buddhist Holidays

  1. arunlikhati says:

    Okay I know this isn’t a Japanese Buddhist holiday, but today I happen to be going to temple to celebrate Kathina/Thadingyut, which is when we old school Buddhists give robes to monks :)

  2. lalakoora says:

    Hi!
    I’m a 29 years old Japanese man living in Kyoto, Japan. I am also interested in Zen. And, I do Zen meditation (Zazen) everyday. So, I’m now, searching for friends who talk about Buddhism.

  3. Gerald Ford says:

    Arun: I assume that’s Theravada. I’ve never heard of it in a Mahayana context, or at least a Japanese one. Then again, there is no Vinaya in Japan anymore, and hasn’t been for many centuries.

    Lala: Welcome to the L8B. I am not a Zen Buddhist though, I am a Jodo Shinshu follower. I almost never meditate. Still, it’s nice to meet other Buddhists. I love Kyoto, especially Chion-in. :)

  4. golan7m says:

    Thank you, very interesting list. I just need to install some Japanese fonts to see how it’s being written in original )

  5. Gerald Ford says:

    Golan: welcome to the L8B. I am using Firefox 3 as my browser (also works in Firefox 2), and do not need to install fonts. I just set the “encoding” to UTF8 and it works like a charm. :) Let me know if that works!

  6. golan7m says:

    Gerald, thanx for welcoming ) Actually I’m also using FF3 and see this page in UTF-8, but can’t see the hieroglyphs. I suppose that’s something with system settings.

  7. Gerald Ford says:

    Hi Golan, now you have me curious.

    On Mac it always works. On Windows XP and such, you have to enable East Asian Fonts under Control Panel -> Regional and Language Options. I did this fairly recently on Windows XP and found it straightforward.

    If you’re using Linux/BSD, I’d have to research (or maybe it’s posted on Google).

    Let me know what you find. :)

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  9. SKHYLAR says:

    Thanks for taking the time to make this reference post. It’s awesome!

Comments are closed.