Japanese festivals: Hana Matsuri

With cherry blossoms in full bloom, Japan celebrates Hana Matsuri, or flower festival, which commemorates Buddha’s (Siddhārtha Gautama) birthday anniversary on April 8th.

Since its introduction some fifteen hundred years ago, Buddhism has played a fundamental role in forging Japan as we know it today. Initially a religion for the elite, with the creation of new sects, Buddhism reached such a great popularity as to become a state religion, incorporating some aspects of the Shinto doctrine, which made it especially loved by the samurai class.

Although Buddha’s birthday date is interpreted differently according to the calendar in use, after the Meiji Restoration in 1868 and the adoption by Japan of the Gregorian calendar, it was chosen to indicate April 8 as an annual celebration (and holiday).

Hana Matsuri (花祭 り), whose formal name is Kanbutsue, is celebrated in all the temples of Japan, but it is also a significant event for kindergarten children, who wear flowers in their hair and participate in the festivities with small parades and performances: it is easy to see children in special kimonos, a decidedly kawaii thing.

The main celebration consists in the construction of small altars or miniature buildings (hanamido) decorated with different varieties of flowers, representative reproduction of the garden in which Siddhārtha was born. Inside the hanamido tiny statues are placed, reproducing a small Buddha (tanjobutsu), on which the worshippers will pour sweet tea (amacha), symbol of the rain that fell immediately after the birth of Siddhārtha.

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