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Kambutsu-e (the Buddha's Birthday Festival)


Children dip sweet tea to pour on the statue. (Hongwanji, Tsukiji)

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).

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.

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, 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.


A priest performs a Kambutsu-e ceremony. (Hongwanji, Tsukiji)

According to legend, the Buddha was born in the garden of Lumbini on the southern fringe of present-day Nepal. Straight after birth, he took seven steps, pointed upward and downward, and said, "I am alone in heaven and on earth." Then nine dragons descended from heaven and "baptized" him with pure water.

The Kambutsu-e festival is a recreation of this event. The hanamido is a representation of the woods of the garden of Lumbini, the statue has the form of the baby Buddha pointing simultaneously heavenward and earthward, and the sweet tea represents the pure water sprinkled onto the Buddha's head by the dragons.