The World Heritage site Todaiji Temple in Nara was home to a curious sight on August 7: the cleaning of the 15-meter-tall Buddha statue.
You will be forgiven for being confused. This ritual takes place once a year to remove dust from the statue. It always takes place a week before the festival when people come to pay their respect to their ancestors, otherwise known as Obon.
During this period, people from all over Japan crowd the Shinkansen stations and make their way to their hometowns, taking time for the tradition of paying respect to ancestors and family members.
At Todaiji Temple, the ritual goes in stages. First, a priest removes the soul of the Buddha from the statue. Then 180 people start cleaning the statue by hand, with some hanging from the ceiling in order to reach all parts of the surface, from the top of the head to the end of the foot of the statue.
This cleaning ritual is called “Onugui,” a word which contains the characters for “body” and “cleaning.” It is expressed in the polite form of Japanese to show respect.
One of the people who was fortunate enough to participate in the Onugui this year was Masahiro Nakamoto, 41. He commented: “Because it was the first time I got so close to the statue, I really felt how impressive it is. I hope that for the next year [following the Onugui] people can come here and enjoy the statue with a new feeling.”
Author: JAPAN Forward