AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Cleanliness is next to Buddhahood

Posted by ampontan on Friday, August 8, 2008

THE ANNUAL HOUSECLEANING in Japan is customarily done in January rather than the spring–unless the premises that have to be cleaned are those of Todai-ji, a famous Buddhist temple in Nara. Then they break out the buckets and the brooms right before the O-Bon festival in mid-August.

Inside the temple is a 15-meter-high statue of the Buddha, which is one of the largest in the country. Every summer, priests and parishioners alike don white workmen’s garb to clean and polish the Great Buddha until it glistens black.

The regular summer cleaning was held on the 7th this year. As this is a Buddhist temple in Japan, they didn’t just unroll the hose and start squirting. There’s a Buddhist memorial service before the work starts. Then they set about wiping off every centimeter of the statue, including its distinctive hair. Called rahotsu in Japanese, it oddly resembles an out-of-date hair style for men called the punch perm. (Even odder is that the guys who liked that fashion were unlikely to be the type interested in Buddhist temples or statues.)

For safety reasons, the temple limits participation to people aged from 18 to 65. This year, 160 people scrubbed the Buddha down, 50 fewer than last year’s cleaning crew.

For the areas on the chest, head, and back that can’t be reached by hand, they used three manually-operated gondolas. It took them only an hour from start to finish.

I wonder: How often do they clean the crucifix above the altar at a Catholic church? I don’t know, but one thing’s probably safe to assume. The priests and altar boys likely entrust the work to professionals rather than hang any scaffolding themselves!

3 Responses to “Cleanliness is next to Buddhahood”

  1. Martin F said

    You forgot to mention the Tetsuka Osamu manga Buddha, about how it was built 😉

    Cleanliness is a virtue: I think you may have fodder for more topics here. I visited Nara and saw the statue earlier this year, the place could be less cluttered. Having said that, Todai-ji is amazing.

  2. It varies greatly from one Buddhist temple to another. I have heard of some temples that are very dirty and in a high state of disrepair.

  3. matt said

    Todaiji daibutsu is not the biggest in Japan. Check http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daibutsu

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