The annual Sechi Festival, which adds to the New Year’s celebration at the Home of the Parent, was held from January 5 to 7. This traditional event has been held since the days when Oyasama was physically present. This year, 100,202 people returned to Jiba to enjoy the occasion. The rice cakes offered at the Main Sanctuary were taken down, cut into small pieces, roasted over charcoal, and served with greens in a clear broth as a dish called zoni.
The lowest temperature on the first day of the Sechi Festival was 1°C, which is roughly the average for this time of the year. Strong gusts of wind prompted people to hold on tight to their coats and turn up their collars to keep warm.
Waiting at the head of a line at the entrance gate was a pilgrimage group of 50 people from Goryo Branch Church, located in Wakayama Prefecture. Head Minister Yasuo Deai said: “Last year, I was given guidance in the form of a disorder of the body, which inspired me to focus on salvation work, that is, the work of helping others be saved. This year, I intend to refresh my mind by having zoni at today’s festival and keep working toward single-hearted salvation.”
Also, Saitama Missionary House brought a pilgrimage group consisting of 30 members, including eight missionaries. One of the missionaries commented: “All the members of our group have truly been looking forward to the Sechi Festival. A 79-year-old lady took fewer baths as a precautionary measure against catching cold. And another lady, who is 60 years old, shed tears of joy when we visited the Foundress’ Sanctuary to worship.”
At 10:00 a.m., the sound of wooden clappers announced the opening of the sites. People waiting in line quickly partook of the sake offerings and proceeded to the Sechi Festival sites. There were six sites, which were staffed by 3,750 hinokishin volunteers including high school and college students, who warmly welcomed the followers who had returned to Jiba.
During the Sechi Festival period, people flocked to the Besseki Lecture Hall and the new Tenri Sankokan Museum, which had just opened last November. The total number of people attending the Besseki lectures was 1,849 (including 416 first-time attendees). As for the Sankokan Museum, a record 6,201 people came on the 5th, and the total number of visitors during the three days numbered 14,791.
Approximately 34,000 kilograms of rice cakes, 1,040 liters of sake, 49,830 liters of clear broth, and 56,000 kilograms of greens were served during the three-day festival.
On December 30, rice cake offerings brought from all over Japan were accepted at the Main Sanctuary. Church Headquarters staff and Junior Seminary students, numbering some 400, helped carry the rice cakes into the Main Sanctuary and placed them on the four corners of the dais to be offered until January 3.
On the 4th, the day before the Sechi Festival, the cutting of these New Year’s rice cakes was conducted in the North and West Worship Halls. White plastic sheets were spread across the entire floor space in both worship halls, where 780 large, medium, and small sized rice cake cutters were placed in rows. Church Headquarters staff, as well as students from Tenri Seminary and the Spiritual Development Course, numbering approximately 1,700, participated in hinokishin to cut the rice cakes. Putting on white cover-up clothes, they divided into groups working with large cutters, medium cutters, small cutters as well as serving as carriers.
Large rice cakes measured approximately 80 centimeters in diameter and 20 centimeters in thickness, weighing about 30 kilograms. First they were cut into four pieces using a large cutter with a blade measuring 1.5 meters, which required two grown men to put all their weight on the device. For the next three and a half hours, the medium and small sized cutters were used to chop these large pieces into smaller, more manageable, sizes.
The cutting of the New Year’s rice cakes was covered by television and newspaper reporters.
Clear broth that warms mind and body
Clear broth gives life to zoni. Its depth of flavor is created from a delicate balance of ingredients and the warm hearts of the people preparing it.
At 6:00 a.m., the lights in the kitchen at Dining Hall 6 were turned on to begin preparing the clear broth. In huge cauldrons, each holding 330 liters of boiling water, cooks put 1.5 kilograms of konbu seaweed and 2.8 kilograms of small dried sardines; then, to flavor the broth, they added 1.5 kilograms of salt and 7.2 liters of soy sauce. To remove the entrails from the dried sardines, the staff at the Cooking Section had to utilize their off-work hours starting as early as November. Removing the entrails is a meticulous process, though a necessary step since they give a bitter taste.
Greens, which add color to the zoni, were offered by various churches. The 21,000 kilograms of greens collected this year were also prepared by the Cooking Section. The staff first cut the greens into a manageable size. The greens were then washed three times in separate tanks to ensure they were clean. Then, they were boiled in huge pasta-boilers and quickly chilled to preserve their freshness and bright color. They were then cut into the correct length and placed carefully in plastic containers so they could be carried to the Sechi Festival sites.
Students Sechi Festival Hinokishin Corps
Visitors entering sites 3, 5, and 6 were greeted by cheerful voices saying, “Happy New Year! Welcome back!” These were the voices of members of the Students Sechi Festival Hinokishin Corps. High school and college students of the path from all over Japan came back to Jiba to join this Hinokishin Corps. The number of participants has been increasing every year, and this year’s total was 603 students (380 from high school and 223 from college), an increase of 40 students over the previous year. During the hinokishin period, 97 of them attended the Besseki lectures as well. The participating students worked as servers, dish washers, and ushers at some of the sites, and in the afternoons they helped to prepare greens.