Sechi Festival (O-sechi)

by Yoshikazu Fukaya

In Jiba, shortly after New Year's, there is an annual event known as the "Sechi Festival." The word "sechi" is defined in a Japanese dictionary as follows: (1) The day when seasonal festivals such as New Year's are annually conducted (2) an abbreviation of "sechi-e," referring to gatherings in the ancient Japanese imperial court on seasonable holidays and other ceremonial occasions, when a banquet was held in the presence of the emperor (3) the meals or rice cakes (called "o-sechi-ku") prepared for New Year's or one of the so-called five traditional seasonal festivals.

Every year, churches throughout Japan make offerings of rice cakes for the New Year's Day Service in Jiba. On January 4, these rice cakes are taken down from the dais in the Main Sanctuary and cut into smaller pieces in an event known as "o-kagami biraki" (literally, "opening the mirror" or "opening the mirror-shaped rice cakes"). Then, for three days from January 5 to 7, roasted rice cakes are served with greens in a clear broth called zoni to followers returning to Jiba, the Home of the Parent. This event is referred to as the "Sechi Festival." (In the past, the 5th was known as the "Villagers' Sechi" (murakata o-sechi) and aimed for people living in the local area while the 6th to 8th was known as the "General Public's Sechi" (ippan o-sechi). This distinction was eliminated in 1988.)

Even during Oyasama's physical lifetime, people who gathered before Her during the New Year's holiday created the tradition of merrily partaking of offerings of rice cakes together. The amount of rice cake offerings gradually increased and records indicate that, in 1874, this amount was almost 136 kilograms (300 pounds).

This event would later be known as the "Sechi Festival" and gradually grew in size. After 1941, the event was discontinued due to food rationing during World War II and its aftermath. The Sechi Festival was revived in January 1956, the year of the 70th Anniversary of Oyasama and has continued up to today.

At its peak, the three-day Sechi Festival drew up to 120,000 people. It is said that roughly 1,440 liters (380 gallons) of offered sake, between 44 and 45 tons of rice cakes, and 500 sacks of wood charcoal were used in such years.

The sites where the Sechi Festival is held--Dining Halls 1 to 5 and the temporary tents set up near the eastern wings of the Oyasato-yakata building-complex--become filled with people welcoming the New Year with joy and peace of mind embraced in the bosom of the Parent. One could say that such a festive and cheerful atmosphere is more than appropriate at the beginning of the year in Jiba, the Home of the Parent.