Happy Buddha Day (Hana Matsuri)
photo by james marzano
According to legend, Prince Gautama (known to us as the Enlightened One or Buddha) was born on April 8th around 446 BC. The story goes that when he was born the earth shook as sweet nectar and flowers fell from the heavens. Soon after his birth he is said to have pointed to the heavens with his right forefinger, to the earth with his left, and proclaimed; “I am my own lord throughout Heaven and Earth!” This day has since been celebrated as Hana Matsuri, the “Flower Festival.”
Images of the naked infant Buddha, proclaiming the essence of the Buddhist doctrine and pointing skyward, can be seen all over Japan every year on his birthday and posters of the precocious Buddha-child are always pasted-up in every neighborhood weeks earlier, calling the people to come to their local temple for celebrations on April 8th. On that day small statues of infant Buddha, some of them ornate and quite old, are placed in the center of a tray filled with sweet tea in miniature shrines, looking like small Buddhist temples covered in various flowers are called, accurately enough, hana mido or “flower temples.” These flower decked shrines are said to represent the garden of Lumbini in Nepal where the Buddha was born. In earlier times twelve flowers were specifically used to decorate them, each representing a different month of the year.
The sweet tea that surrounds the statue and which sits in a pot next to it is called amacha. This liquid, supposedly the same nectar which fell so long ago from heaven, is brewed from the leaves of the hydrangea bush which grows in the mountains. It is interesting to note that before sugar was introduced into Japan, amacha was boiled down into a thick syrup and used as a sugar substitute.