They say that light shines brightest in the darkest of nights. If you want to witness a parade of thousands of lights in Tokyo, the Oeshiki Festival is perfect for you!
Held annually in October, the Oeshiki commemorates the death anniversary of Nichiren Shonin. This Buddhist festival is celebrated all over Japan, but the Oeshiki held at Tokyo’s Ikegami Honmonji is considered the largest. Find out all about it!
Born in 1222 in Kominato (now Chiba Prefecture), Nichiren Shonin is the founder of the Nichiren sect of Buddhism. He became a priest at the Seichoji Temple at the young age of 15. “Nichiren” means “Sun Lotus,” and the title “Shonin” refers to a “revered priest.” Nichiren propagated the teachings of the Lotus Sutra. In 1282, he died at Ikegami Honmonji, but his ashes remain at the Kuonji Temple in Yamanashi Prefecture following his will.
Ikegami Honmonji was founded by Nichiren Shonin before his death in October 1282 upon the request of feudal lord Ikegami Munenaka. The amount of land that the lord offered matched the number of Chinese characters in the Lotus Sutra.
Ikegami Honmonji is located on top of a hill in Tokyo’s Ota Ward, physically separating it from the hustles and bustles of the city. Climbing the 96 steps up to the temple, one will notice the change in atmosphere – from hectic to peaceful.
The temple complex includes a number of important buildings. Its five-storied pagoda, built in 1608, is considered the oldest of its kind in the Kanto region. While built in the Edo period, its architectural style was influenced by the Momoyama period. The 250-year-old Kyozo houses the Buddhist sutras or scriptures, and the Tahoto is a red pagoda marking the site where Nichiren was cremated. The five-storied pagoda, Kyozo, and Tahoto are among the architectural treasures of Tokyo that survived World War II.
The Oeshiki is a three-day festival held from October 11 to 13. Its highlight is the Mando Kuyo held on the night of the 12th, in which Mando lanterns are carried by festival participants. “Mando” literally means “ten thousand lights,” and the Mando lanterns are decorated with cherry blossoms as it is said that cherry trees bloomed when Nichiren Shonin died. Matoi (flag used by Edo firemen) also accompany the Mando Kuyo.
The night is made more vibrant with drums and flute playing music as the parade starts at Ikegami Station until it reaches Ikegami Honmonji Temple. Upon arrival at the temple, various short demonstrations are occasionally held throughout the night. Different groups that joined the parade also pay their respects at the main temple.
Ikegami Honmonji is full of life as the temple grounds are also lined with festival booths where you can play games or buy food to eat. Over 300,000 people join the festivities of the Oeshiki Festival at this temple each year. The festival is also broadcast online for those who are unable to attend in person.
Ikegami Honmonji is accessible via public transportation with two train routes. The first route is through Ikegami Station on the Tokyu Ikegami Line, one of the seven lines operated by Tokyu Corporation. The temple is a 10-minute walk from this station. Another route is via Nishi-magome Station, a terminal station on the Toei Asakusa Line. The temple is a 12-minute walk from this station.
Experience the traditions of a festival with more than 700 years of history. Visit Ikegami Honmonji and join the celebration of life and lights at the Oeshiki Festival!