Kinomidokyo (reading of the Great Perfection of Insight Sutra in spring and autumn) (季御読経)
Kinomidokyo was a court function performed during the Heian period. While some believe that Kinomidokyo dates back to the Wado era (from 708 to 715) of the Nara period, it is generally agreed that it began in 729.
Kinomidokyo was a Buddhist service where priests were invited inside the Imperial Court in the spring and fall to selectively read Daihannyakyo (Great Perfection of Wisdom Sutra) to pray for the peace and security of the nation.
A hoe (Buddhist mass) was usually held for three or four days; on the second day, the monks were entertained by a tea service called 'hikicha,' and on the third day rounds of debate were held called 'rongi.'
As a general rule, however, 'hikicha' and 'rongi' took place only in the spring. On the first or final day of a Kinomidokyo, a ritual was performed through the Imperial Court, together with a hoe, for those entering into Buddhist priesthood at each temple.
Kinomidokyo was established as an official function of the Imperial Court in 859, but by this time it had already been held as a 'Shikinomidokyo' (seasonal reading of the Great Perfection of Insight Sutra) throughout the year. It was performed less frequently later on due to Emperor Yozei taking the throne in 877, and Kinomidokyo came to be performed only during the spring and fall.
The number of priests who gathered at a Kinomidokyo ranged from 60 to 100, and this was on a larger scale than other hoe, such as the Gosaie (ritual for the Sutra of Golden Light performed at the Imperial Palace) and the Saishoko (the annual five days of lectures on the Konkomyo-saisho sutra). In later years, Kinomidokyo became an extravagant wining and dining feast rather than a Buddhist mass due to nobles gathering for hikicha service and then food and drink service at night.
By the tenth century, aside from court functions, Kinomidokyo came to be held privately and hosted by the Daijo Tenno (Retired Emperor), the Togu (Crown Prince) or the Kogo (Empress). In 924 it was hosted by FUJIWARA no Shoshi, which was clearly intended as a display of power for the Chugu (Palace of the Empress). The service was also held by regents and advisors of the Emperor as a token of accomplishment. When FUJIWARA no Michinaga stepped out from the political center stage, however, Kinomidokyo by regents and advisors were held less frequently, and by the following era of FUJIWARA no Yorimichi, the service almost never held at all.
Originating from Tang, 'Cha' (tea) during the Heian period was one of the latest cultural trends and was very highly valued. Consequently, it took enormous time and money to prepare tea services for the Imperial Court.
The manners in which hikicha was served involved serving sencha (green tea of middle grade) to priests formed in an orderly line; condiments would then be added, such as amazura (traditional sweetener commonly used in the past), koboku (skin of Magnolia obovata used for crude drugs) and ginger to suit individual tastes. After it was first introduced to Japan, a valuable kind of sencha was used that had been brought over by the Kento-shi (Japanese envoy to Tang Dynasty China), but by the late ninth century, the zochashi (a person who manages a tea garden) at the Kurodo-dokoro (chamberlain's office) made tea from plants that had been grown in the tea garden of the Imperial Court.