Held on June 15th to commemorate the founder of Shingon Buddhism, Kōbō Daishi, and celebrate the return of those who have just finished weeks of shugendō training on Mt. Ōmine in Nara, the Aoba Matsuri at Chishaku-in temple is a prime chance to experience a ritual popular with this eclectic form of mountain asceticism. Shugendō, which means "the way to spiritual power through discipline", is an ancient form of mountain worship that blends aspects of Buddhism, Shinto, and other religions, and involves followers undertaking rituals of courage and hardship in nature to develop themselves. On Mt. Ōmine the yamabushi monks engage in such daring practices as climbing overhanging rocks using only a chain, or dangling head first over a 60 meter (200 ft.) cliff!
The Aoba Matsuri begins with a procession to the temple's Kondō Hall led by the mountain monks and accompanied by women bearing flowers as well as the venerable chief priest riding on a palanquin. Blowing conch shell trumpets as they go, the group reaches the main hall and enters to perform offerings to the deities and read sutras before the altar. Once the services conclude inside, the men proceed to a nearby clearing where a bonfire has been prepared as well as a temporary altar of worship for Fudō Myō'ō, the Immovable Wisdom King associated with purifying fire. There the monks perform various purifications before lighting the fire, burning the wishes of parishioners and blessing items in the fire as they chant.
Not only is the fire ceremony an interesting watch, but Chishaku-in also hosts several other events during the Aoba Matsuri. You can shop at a small group of shops made up of local vendors called the Mandala Market, try your hand at a lottery, or participate in a sort of stamp rally going between all of Chishaku-in's temple buildings collecting the seals of a good luck charm. Also, don't miss the temple's lovely gardens!
Things to See/Do