Kanbutsue is a ceremony that celebrates the birth of Buddha. It is held on April 8 every year.
It is based on the tradition that says Buddha (Gotama Siddhattha) was born on April 8 (old lunar calendar). The ceremony is also known as Gotane, Busshoe, Yokubutsue, Ryugee, Hanaeshiki and Hanamatsuri.
It is based on the tradition that dragons came down from the sky to pour Koto (fragrant hot water) (soma, amrita) when Buddha was born. This ceremony should be held based on the old lunar calendar in nature. It started to be celebrated more often based on the solar calendar or on Sunday that is closer to the date in recent years in Japan.
Korea still holds the ceremony based on the old lunar calendar, and designates the day as a statutory holiday known as 'Buddha's birthday.'
Christmas has been designated as a statutory holiday. As a result, consideration was given not to give special treatment to one particular religion.
Another tradition tells that Buddha was born on February 8 (old lunar calendar) (The second month of the Indian calendar, Vaisakha).
In Japan, people make a hanamido (literally, "blossom temple") decorated with various plants and flowers. Inside the hanamido, a Kanbutsu-oke tub is placed to be filled with amacha (hydrangea tea). A Buddhist statue is placed at the center and amacha is poured over it with a tea ladle as a celebration. People pour amacha based upon the legend that nine dragons poured sacred water from the sky to be used for Buddha's first bath when he was born.
The event can take place at any temple irrespective of the sect (with the exception of the Nichiren Sho sect's Fujimon school (where Buddha is not the principal deity)). Worshippers are also offered amacha. Amacha is believed to help people improve their calligraphy skills. It is also used as a charm to repel pests. Theravada Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism hold Vesakh festival and Saga Wada festival around May, respectively, as an equivalent of Kanbutsue. On the other hand, the Nichiren Shoshu Sect holds 'The Birthday Party' on February 16, when Nichiren was born. At Taiseki-ji Temple, after a memorial service is held at the Goei-do Hall (hall dedicated to the sect's founder), a sutra is recited to open the five-storied pagoda.
The notation of Hanamatsuri was adopted by the Jodo Sect during the Meiji period. Since then, it has been used to refer to Kanbutsue regardless of sects. The notation is more familiar among nursery schools and kindergartens run by temples. The day is for children to be given amacha. Also, many temples feature chigogyoretsu (children's parade).
In Japanese, to ruin things by mistake is described as 'Oshaka-ni-naru (becoming Buddha),' which relates to Kanbutsue. Smithies in Edo used the patter to describe failed metallic products due to overroasting. The patter is believed to have been derived from 'Shi-ga-tsuyo-katta' in their Edo accent, which can be heard as 'Shigatsu-yokka (April 8),' which is Buddha's birthday.
Hanamatsuri featuring chigogyoretsu
Early April: Gokoku-ji Temple (Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo Prefecture)
April 8: Ryuko-ji Temple (Tomioka City, Gunma Prefecture)
May 5: Daiko-in Temple (Ota City, Gunma Prefecture)
May 8: Kosen-ji Temple (Kusatsu-machi, Gunma Prefecture, also featuring tekomai (float leading dance))