April 8 is the Buddha’s birthday and is celebrated at Buddhist temples in Japan as the Kambutsu-e nativity festival – more popularly known as the Hana Matsuri (Flower Festival). April 8 is not a national holiday in Japan, but there are festivals at temples everywhere in the country. This day is the celebration of Buddha’s birthday, often called Flower Festival or Kanbutsu-e.
Flower Festival, Kambutsu-e
Not National Holiday
On this day, a small hall called the hanamido (flower hall) is set up on the grounds of every Buddhist temple and bedecked with colorful flowers. A basin of water with a statue of the Buddha at birth is placed in the middle, and people who visit the temples pour sweet tea (amacha, or hydrangea tea) on the head of the statue.
Buddha’s Birthday Celebrations
A basin of water with a statue of the Buddha at birth is placed in the middle, and people who visit the temples pour sweet tea (amacha, or hydrangea tea) on the head of the statue. According to legend, the Buddha’s mother (Lady Maya, aka Mahamaya or Mayadevi) dreamt of a divine being atop a white elephant descending from heaven, touching her side, and entering her womb. The elephant imagery indicates that her child came from the pure land known as Tuṣita, home of Bodhisattva Maitreya (Jp. = Miroku). The sweet tea is made from dried and boiled hydrangea leaves.
Temple staff prepare gallons of the tea by April 8 and distribute it to festival visitors. Those who take it home and drink it with their families. In the past, people thought sweet tea had magical powers. People would write a spell in ink made of amacha and hang it upside-down outisde the gate in the belief that the spell would keep away snakes and other unwanted animals and insects. Most Buddhist temples set up a small statue of baby Buddha for the celebration. But some don’t even need to. Because they already have one on the premises. Like this little temple in Jiganzendera, Mita. Look how cute he is The statue has his right hand pointing down and his left hand held up.