Annual Sechi Festival Held at the Home of the Parent

Tenrikyo Church Headquarters conducted the Sechi Festival between January 5 and 7. For this annual New Year’s event, the rice cakes that have been offered in the Main Sanctuary for the New Year’s Day Service are cut into small pieces, which are then roasted over charcoal and served to visitors in a clear broth together with some greens. This year, 97,213 people returned to the Home of the Parent to enjoy the occasion. First in line at an entrance gate on the opening day were Mitsuji Fukuhara, head minister of Sumiai Branch Church, and his family. They had set out from their church in Chiba Prefecture at 1:00 A.M. and, driving all night, eventually reached Tenri at 8:00 in the morning. After worshiping at the Main Sanctuary, they went directly to the entrance gate. Head Minister Fukuhara told reporters: “Seeing how so many people’s lives were upset by wars and disasters last year, we decided to come to Jiba as a family in order to pray that this new year will bring some measure of peace and serenity to their lives. Naturally, this prayer is accompanied by our firm resolution to pay attention to the way we use our own minds from day to day and to do whatever we can to sprinkle the fragrance of the teachings on others.” Also in line were newlyweds Kenichi and Harue Igo. Having registered their marriage on New Year’s Day, they immediately came to Tenri so that Kenichi, who is new to his wife’s faith, could attend the Besseki lectures and experience the Sechi Festival. “I’m simply amazed by how lively the atmosphere in Jiba is,” says Kenichi. “The warm and friendly hospitality shown by all these high school students doing hinokishin for the festival is really impressive.” At 10:00 A.M., the sound of wooden clappers signaled the opening of the entrance gates. Those waiting in line quickly partook of the sake offerings as they passed through the gates. Proceeding to one of the six festival sites, they were treated to as many rice cakes as they could possibly eat. This year, visitors consumed almost 42 tons of rice cakes, which had been roasted over 6,889 kilograms of charcoal and served with 5,316 kilograms of greens in 48,510 liters of broth. In addition, 939.6 liters of sake were served at the entrance gates. During the three-day event, the Shinbashira and the former Shinbashira made rounds of the sites and cordially exchanged New Year’s greetings with the participants. The 6th, being a Sunday favored by mild weather, saw a particularly large turnout with great numbers of pilgrimage groups arriving. Throughout the morning and early afternoon, there was an unbroken line of several thousand people waiting to pass through the entrance gates. The rice cakes and sake consumed at the festival were offerings that had been brought to the Main Sanctuary by directly supervised churches on December 30. These had been placed on the four corners of the dais, where they remained as offerings through January 3. On the 4th, the day before the Sechi Festival commenced, the rice cakes were removed from the dais and carried into the North and West Worship Halls, where 1,300 volunteers cut them into small pieces. Some of the larger rice cakes, weighing as much as 30 kilograms, measured 80 centimeters in diameter by 20 centimeters in height, thus requiring volunteers to first cut them into large pieces that could be gradually sliced into smaller and smaller pieces. Television and newspaper reporters covered the cutting of the rice cakes as well as the Sechi Festival. The festival owes its success largely to the approximately 6,000 hinokishin volunteers serving at the sites, among whom 3,369 were students. Most of these students attend Tenrikyo schools such as Tenri University, Tenri Seminary, Tenri High School, Tenri Kyoko Gakuen High School, and Tenrikyo Language Institute. Others were members of the Students Sechi Festival Hinokishin Corps, who came from high schools and colleges all over Japan to do hinokishin for the festival. Arriving at their respective sites at 8:30 each morning, the hinokishin volunteers made preparations for the day. Some wiped the tables and set out bowls and chopsticks. Others carried trays of freshly roasted rice cakes to their respective sites. These trays weighed about seven kilograms each. They also carried trays laden with greens and kettles filled with broth. Those working in tents used sponges attached to long poles to absorb the condensation that had formed on the tent’s ceiling to prevent it from dripping on the tables. When the gates opened at 10:00, the volunteers enthusiastically welcomed the visitors and energetically bustled about serving them. One of the sites, Dining Hall 2, is a large hall with tatami-mat flooring, which meant that visitors had to remove their footwear before entering the hall. While those visitors were enjoying their meal, volunteers cleaned their shoes and arranged them neatly in the hallway. Other behind-the-scenes tasks included washing and drying the used bowls and chopsticks and then returning them to the various sites so they could be used again. On the final day of the event, the floors of some of the indoor sites became slippery due to rain, so volunteers constantly busied themselves wiping the floors with dry mops. Hinokishin volunteers also helped out in parking areas and the Besseki Lecture Hall. When the festival finally came to an end at a little past 1:00 P.M. on the 7th, the volunteers stayed behind to clean up the sites and put away the folding tables and chairs. Their sincere efforts and the warm hospitality they showed to visitors throughout the three-day event were an expression of their desire to implement Oyasama’s well-known saying “Whoever comes to this house shall never leave without being filled with joy.” During the Sechi Festival, many people attended the Besseki lectures, which had resumed on January 2 following the New Year’s holiday. Between January 2 and 7, a total of 1,952 people attended the lectures, including 332 who were hearing them for the first time.

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