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Zen Event Calendar in Japan

The Soto Zen Event Calendar

Equinox Ceremony (Higan-e) March and September

In Japanese, there is a proverb that says “Hot and cold weather last until the equinox”. This week-long ceremony takes place on the spring and fall equinoxes, the middle of an important week when the weather is usually very good.

Higan is the teaching that leads people from the world of delusion to the world of awakening. There are six components of this teaching: giving, precepts, perseverance, diligence, zazen, and wisdom. It is taught that if we carry out these practices we will be blessed with happiness and good fortune.

On the day before Higan, it is the custom in a Japanese home to clean the Buddha altar, to straighten up the various Buddha implements, and to change the flowers on the altar. It is also customary to make offerings of rice dumplings on the first day of the week. On the equinox (the middle day of this week) rice cakes covered with bean jam called ohagi or botamochi are offered. And once again on the final day of the week, dumplings made from rice flour are offered. During this time, offerings of food, special sweets, and fruit are also made.

Visiting the temple

It is customary at this time to visit the temple to present offerings of pounded-rice cakes (mochi), sweets, fruit, and so on to the principal image of Buddha as well as the family ancestors.

It is also the custom at Higan to visit the family grave to express our gratitude to the family ancestors. For those people living far away from the family grave, it is especially good to visit the temple and family grave during Higan. This is a good way to learn the warm-heartedness customarily expressed during Higan of giving rice cakes covered with bean jam to the neighbors and one's relatives.

Visiting the family grave

A visit to the family grave first begins with cleaning the grave stone and grave site. It is particularly important to scour places that easily become dirty such as water basins and flower vases. Older wooden stupas are mindfully removed and disposed of according to temple instructions. Once the grave has been cleaned, fresh offerings of water, incense, and favorite delicacies of the deceased ancestors' are made. The temple priest is then asked to chant a sutra at the grave, at this time, we join our hands in wholehearted prayer.

Following the visit to the gravesite, it is proper to remove the food offerings. No one likes to see spoiled offerings and they are also unsanitary. It is also good to clean up the special gravesite for graves that are no longer tended by family members and offer incense and flowers. In Japan, this is thought to express the beauty of one's heart and mind.


Flower Festival (Hana-matsuri) April 8th

Shakyamuni Buddha's birthday is celebrated on April 8th. He was born 2500 years ago to King Suddhodana and Queen Maya in the garden of Lumbini which was located in Kapilavastu, a small kingdom in the Himalayan foothills. He was called Siddhartha and later, Shakyamuni Buddha.

It has long been said that at the time of his birth Shakyamuni Buddha said, “Heaven, earth and I are all one person.” At each temple throughout Japan, a small pavilion, covering a statue of the baby Buddha pointing one index finger toward heaven and the other toward earth, is set up and decorated with flowers. This stature is bathed with sweet tea and this is the way Flower Festival is observed.

Flower Festival is not held only at temples, however. It is observed as a general, public event especially at kindergartens, where it is often held on a big scale. Let us believe in the true happiness brought about by Shakyamuni Buddha's teaching and celebrate the unsurpassable joy it gives.

Sweet tea is an essential element of the Flower Festival. According to the legend, two Dragon Kings rained warm and cool sweet water from heaven to bathe the baby Buddha. Not only is sweet tea drunk at the Flower Festival, but there is also the custom of grinding sumi ink with it and writing “April 8th is a day of good fortune and insects are driven away.” The piece of paper this is written on is hung upside down and thought to keep away disagreeable insects.


O-bon, Sejiki-e

The memorial services held at Obon have two meanings. One is to honor the Buddha and show reverence for one's ancestors and others who have died. The other is to express gratitude to all people to whom we are indebted, including people who are alive such as our parents, relatives, and friends.

The full expression for Obon is Urabon-e which is derived from “Ullabana,” an old Indian word. According to the Bussetsu Urabon Sutra, the origin of this tradition goes back to a ceremony performed by Shakyamuni Buddha for the deceased mother of Maudgalyayana, one of the Buddha's immediate disciples. Ullabana means “hanging upside down” and it was by means of this ceremony that the suffering of that world in which she lived (the suffering was so intense it was like hanging upside down) was removed.

These days, people think that this ceremony will prolong the life of parents and remove all suffering and anguish. This is also one of the traditional holiday periods in Japan when people exchange gifts. The other traditional time is over New Years. Obon is a ceremony to respectfully honor the spirits of the ancestors; it is also to ask for the long life or our parents. In preparation for meeting the spirits, it is customary to thoroughly clean our house and put ourselves in order as if meeting guests.

Greeting Fires (Kadobi)

On the evening of the 13th, fires are lit with hemp stalks or pine torches. These lights serve as a guide for the returning ancestors –They are like a voice crying out, “Come this way, Grandpa and Grandma.” If these lights are not clearly visible, the spirits will be unsure which way to go.

Sending Off the Spirits (Shoryo Okuri)

The spirits are usually sent back on the 15th or 16th. Once again, hemp stalks are lit and in some places are set out on small boats with offerings to float down rivers or out to sea. Lately, because of the problem of pollution, the boats are collected at temples and other places. People chant “Obon spirits, go away on this boat,” and send them off carefully.

Obon Shelf (Bondana)

Where will the ancestors who have come for the offerings be greeted? A special shelf called an Obon-dana or Tama-dana is made where the family memorial tablet is place along with various offerings. At those houses where this kind of shelf is not set up, the ancestral spirits are greeted at the Buddha-altar. This is where the temple priest chants the tana-gyo , a sutra read for the ancestors. This Obon-shelf is usually erected on the morning of the 13th. In a home where a family member has died within the past year, this shelf is set up between the 1st and the 7th and should be done in an especially mindful way. On these shelves, dumplings are often offered. They are placed on the altar shelf immediately after the family has greeted the spirits at the grave.

On the 14th, it is the custom to make an offering of noodles and on the 15th, rice dumplings covered with bean jam are offered. Also, uncooked rice, mixed with finely chopped raw eggplants and other vegetables, is placed in small piles on lotus or paulownia leaves and used as an offering.

On the 16th, it is said that the ancestral spirits return home riding on cows and carrying luggage on horses. Eggplants and cucumbers, in the shapes of cows and horses, are offered. These are similar to the straw horses which are used as decorations during the Tanabata Festival. In some areas, there is the custom of fixing green cedar or green bamboo to the four corners of the shelf in the same way that pine decorations are used to honor the gods at New Year's.

At any rate, let's make respectful offerings of those things that the ancestral spirits like, offerings that have been traditionally cultivated, or items that are familiar to the ancestors, in order to have them come back.

A Ceremony to Comfort the Ancestral Spirits (施食会 Sejiki-e)

The Obon Sejiki-e, a ceremony to comfort the ancestral spirits, is an important ceremony in The Soto Zen School. At every The Soto Zen School temple, this ceremony is performed as a way of making offerings to the family ancestors, to one's parents, relatives, and spirits of other people we are connected with, as well as for spirits that are no longer connected to any living person.


Memorial Service for Dogen Zenji and Keizan Zenji (両祖忌 Ryōsoki) September 29th

For the lay believers of Sotoshu, it can be said that Dogen Zenji and Keizan Zenji are, in terms of their faith, like father and mother. Dogen Zenji died on August 28, 1254 at the age of 53 and Keizan Zenji died on August 15, 1325 at the age of 58. According to the Western calendar, both of these dates fall on September 29th. On this day, a ceremony called Ryosoki is respectfully held at Sotoshu temples to honor these two important ancestors.

Two other important celebrations are held on the date of Dogen Zenji's birth on January 26th and the date of Keizan Zenji's birth on November 23rd.


Memorial Service for Bodhidharma (達磨忌 Daruma-ki) October 5th

Daruma-san, a round red-colored doll, is known as a good-luck talisman associated with temples and shrines. The good fortune associated with Bodhidharma (Daruma) comes from the legend that no matter how many times Bodhidharma fell down he would always get up.

In the areas where silk worms are cultivated, there is a custom of painting in one of the eyes on the Daruma doll if the worms produce much silk thread in spring and painting in the other one of Daruma's eyes if the worms produced much silk thread in autumn.

Bodhidharma, the inspiration for the Daruma doll, was originally one of the ancestral teachers of The Soto Zen School. He was the first Ancestors of Zen in China and also known as Bodai Daruma Daishi.

The red Daruma doll seen throughout Japan was originally modeled on this great teacher who sat facing a wall unflinchingly for nine years and lived to the old age of 150.

Bodhidharma died on October 5th and this is the date on which his death is commemorated. Early autumn is the harvest time in Japan and also the time when the autumn silkworm is cultivated. For this reason, this ceremony includes our feeling of gratitude to Bodhidharma as well as a prayer for a good harvest in the next year. There is also the wish expressed that those who participate in the ceremony will enjoy a long life.


Rohatsu 臘八 Sesshin

The week between December 1st and 8th is called Rohatsu Sesshin , which is a whole week of intensive zazen. The custom has its roots in the Buddha's own attainment of enlightenment after a week of meditation. Following the example of the Buddha, the Zen monks meditate for a whole week , regardless of the cold weather. Many lay practitioners also participate in this week of intensive zazen since it is the one week when they can devote themselves fully to zazen in a monastery without any outside interference. During zazen, practitioners often experience leg pain from the constant kneeling. However, by focusing one's mind, an indescribable inner composure and sense of expansiveness can be attained. Trying to attain this state in an impatient frame of mind will only lead to a sense of narrowness and closure. But immersing both mind and body in zazen will lead to the attainment of Buddhahood, radiating naturally from the inner depths of mind. The whole week can be called a week of completely handing oneself over to the Buddha.

Ceremony Commemorating the Awakening of Shakyamuni Buddha (成道会 Jodo-e) December 8th

December 8th is the day we commemorate Shakyamuni Buddha's realization of the Way. Following many years of difficult ascetic practice, Shakyamuni sat in zazen beneath the Bodhi tree. At dawn on December 8th, Shakyamuni saw the morning star and realizing awakening, he then became Shakyamuni Buddha. He was no longer an ordinary, common person and instead had achieved the brilliance by which to free all of humankind.

In Soto Zen School, we call this day Jodo-e and perform a ceremony as a gesture of our gratitude to Shakyamuni Buddha. It is also customary to practice zazen on this day.

Commemoration ceremony of the Second Patriarch's cutting off his forearm (Danpi Ho-on Sesshin) December 9th and 10th

On December 9th and 10th, Danpi Ho-on Sesshin and intensive zazen take place. Danpi means to cut off one's hand, an episode illustrating the devotion of the Second Patriarch Eka. On the night of December 9th in 520 CE, the Second Patriarch Eka visited the First Patriarch Bodhidharma and stood outside in a snowstorm without sleeping. Noticing him, Bodhidharma asked, “Why are you standing outside in the snow? What do you seek?” Eka implored him in tears, “Please teach me the truth of the Buddha's Dharma and save me.” Bodhidharma turned him down with the words “The true teaching cannot be gained half-heartedly, but only with suffering.” Hearing these words, Eka secretly took out a sword and cut off his left forearm to show his determination. Because of this, he was admitted and spent six years in hard training. He went on to propagate the Buddha Dharma and became the Second Patriarch. The Danpi Ho-on Sesshin is the time to commemorate his dedication. On the day of commemoration the monks meditate without sleep for one full day and night.


End-of-year events (O-misoka) December 31st


On December 27th, the rice-cake pounding ceremony takes place and great quantities of rice-cakes are made. Three types of rice-cakes are prepared on the day. One is rice-cakes in the shape of a traditional mirror, to be offered to the Buddhist statues enshrined in the temple. The second type of rice-cakes is called jubyo (lit. the rice-cake for longevity). These are presented to Zen masters in the monastery with the wish for their good health. The third type of rice-cakes is for the monks to eat during the first three days of the New Year. At six o'clock on the evening on that day, the monks gather at the temple kitchen in the building called Kichijo-kaku . They start pounding the rice-cakes after praying for the good health of their masters as well as for the rest of the temple. They use four large mortars to make more than 500 pieces ranging from very large to small. It is a boisterous event where the normally quiet monks come to life, smiling and shouting, while pounding away in a kitchen covered in white flour.

The end of December sees a series of year-end events. Events such as the rice-cake pounding, cleaning, alms begging for the needy and the striking of the New Year's Eve bell. The founder, Dogen, once preached at his New Year's Eve sermon that one should attain mastery of his/her discipline by year end, otherwise the daily practice of the last 360 days would be in vain: a reminder of the importance of each day.

the New Year (Gantan) January 1st

The morning of the New Year's at Eiheiji starts at 3 a.m. Monks meditate soon after they get up, starting their new year with a lungful of the fresh, cold, almost spring-tinged, air.

For the first three days of the New Year, there is a series of New Year ceremonies known as shusho-e (lit. New Year ceremonies). On January 1st, sutras of six hundred Buddhist scrolls are chanted and the monks offer prayers for the flourishing of the Dharma, the peace of the world, the prosperity of the people and the peace of the nation. On January 2nd is a ceremony in which the great prajna-paramita sutra ( Hannya Kyo ) is chanted, and on January 3rd, a ceremony praising the Buddha (Tanbutsu-e ). Every day, more than ten thousand worshippers come to receive the Buddha's blessing.

Until the middle of January, such ceremonies as the Jinjitsu-en are held (entertainment by and for the monks who are divided into groups according to dormitory), and the first calligraphy ceremony of the year. The entertainment event in particular sums up the festive New Year atmosphere and is where the personalities of the monks and the mood of each dormitory are displayed.


After the Rohatsu Sesshin (December sesshin) is over, New Year preparations such as year-end cleaning, rice-cake pounding and preparations for the New Year's ceremony take place. At the end of the year, the monks beg for alms for the needy. The monks make their own footwear, symbolizing a firm foundation for both mind and body, and walk around Tsurumi Town.

On December 31st, the monks must be in bed by 6 p.m. and be up again at 11 p.m. on the same evening to the ringing of a bell ready for the New Year. The Mukai-karamon Chinese style-gate, normally closed, opens at a quarter to midnight and the bell starts to toll. The bell tolls 108 times to symbolize the eradication of worldly desires. On top of that, Sojiji allows each and every visitor a single strike on the bell. Being a time of year when unexpected incidents and disasters are likely to occur, it is a great opportunity for the visitors to strike the bell with the hope that their worldly desires will vanish and that their new year be a good one.

the New Year (Gantan) January 1st

At a quarter past midnight on New Year's Day, the first ceremony of the year known as the New Year's Grand Service (Hatsumode-daikitoukai) takes place. At the Founder's Hall, all of the monks who serve the temple gather, and the ceremony is led by the leading Zen Master with prayers for the safety of the temple, the happiness of the people and the peace of the nation. Following this ceremony, other ceremonies are held in the temple precincts, such places as Koshakudai , where Daikoku , the god of prosperity, is enshrined and Sanpo-den where Sanpo Daikojin , the local god of the temple yard, is enshrined. January 1st is filled with the chanting voices of the monks offering up Buddhist sutras in the temple.

After New Year, comes the coldest season. According to the lunar calendar, Shokan (lit. small coldness) sets in the middle of January. The monks gather winter alms in the coldest season of the year until February 2nd. During this period, after the afternoon service, more than 100 monks set out in straw sandals and traditional gloves for the neighboring town, Tsurumi where they beg for between an hour and a half and two hours.


The Founder's Birthday (高祖降誕会 Kōso gōtan-e) January 26th

January 26th is the birthday of Dogen (the Founder of Soto Zen). Dogen was born in Kyoto on January 2nd (January 26th in the solar calendar). On January 26th, two ceremonies are held in celebration of his birth, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. In the morning ceremony, a scroll with a painting of Dogen is hung in the Lecture Hall ( Hatto ). A pail is placed in front of the painting containing holy hot water in which such incense as aloes, sandal wood have been boiled. In the afternoon is the ceremony of appreciation ( Ho-on Koshiki ). Special shomyo Buddhist music is chanted as an expression of gratitude.


Nirvana Ceremony, Commemorating the Buddha's Death (涅槃会 Nehan-e) February 15th

This is the day that Shakyamuni Buddha died near the town of Kushinagara on the banks of the Hiranyavati River. A big scroll depicting the Buddha entering Nirvana is hung in the temple and a ceremony expressing our gratitude to the Buddha is performed.

It is said that at the time of his death the Buddha was sleeping on a bed that had been prepared between two sala trees; his head to the north, his face to the west, and his right hand for a pillow. At that time, white flowers bloomed on the sala trees and fell continuously.

Many of his disciples, the king and his family, men and women of all ages, and even birds and animals gathered, sighing with sadness. The Buddha gave his last discourse, expounding the fundamental truth – even though the physical body dies, the Dharma is eternal; in order to see the Buddha, it is necessary to see the Dharma. In this way, he taught his disciples the precepts and the way they should maintain the practice of Buddha's Way. This sermon is called the Yuikyogyo, the Last Teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha.

Nehan Dumplings

In connection with the Nirvana Ceremony, there are some districts in Japan where, from long ago, dumplings have been made either at the temple or in individual homes. These dumplings, also known as “flower dumplings,” are first offered to Shakyamuni Buddha and then distributed to people who attend the ceremony.

It is generally said that people who eat these dumplings will not suffer from sickness or disaster and for this reason many people come to the temple on the day of this ceremony.


Yearly Calendar of Ceremonies

January 1
New Year's Day {saichō 歳朝 }

January 26
Dōgen Zenji's Birthday {kōso gōtan e 高祖降誕会 }

February 15
Buddha's Parinirvana Day {nehan-e 涅槃会 }

March 10
Acharya Mahapajapati's Memorial Day (in America)

April 8
Buddha's Birthday {buttan-e 佛誕会 }

May 2? (dates may vary)
Appointing Shuso {shō shuso 請首座 }

May 15?
Opening Practice Period (“binding rules”) {kessei 結制 }

May 17?
Shuso Dharma Inquiry {shuso hossenshiki 首座法戰式 }

August 15?
Closing Practice Period (“unbinding rules”){kaisei 解制 }

August 15?
Sejiki, Offering to Hungry Ghosts {sejiki e 施食会 }

August 15?
Liberating Life (animal release) {hōjō e 放生会 }

September 29
Dōgen and Keizan Zenji Memorial Day {ryōsoki 両祖忌 }

October 5
Bodhidharma's Memorial Day {daruma ki 達磨忌 }

December 8 {rōhatsu 臘八 }
Buddha's Awakening Day {jōdō e 成道会 }

December 31
New Year's Eve {saimatsu 歳末 }

(annual plus monthly)
Founder's Memorial Day {kaisan ki 開山忌 }

(monthly on full moon)
Precepts Renewal Ceremony {ryaku fusatsu 略布薩 }




Annual Events in Rinzai Zen

New Years Ceremony
修正会 ( Shushoe )
(January 1–3)

The New Years celebration in Zen temples starts on the morning of January 1 and continues until the morning of January 3. The ceremony, dedicated to world peace, the advance of the Dharma, and the well-being of the temple, involves a   tendoku   ritual reading of the 600-fascicle   Large Prajña Paramita Sutra   on all three mornings ( tendoku ritual reading involves shouting the title and volume number of the sutra, then quickly flipping through the sutra book itself). When   tendoku   reading is not possible then the “Daij¨ Hannya Rishubun” 第十般若理趣分 portion of fascicle 578 is recited in the ordinary way.

New Years Completion Ceremony
修正滿散会 ( Shusho Mansan-e )
(January 3)

This ceremony, marking, as the name implies, the successful completion of the New Years ceremony, is held immediately following the   tendoku   reading on the morning of January 3.

Rinzai Day Observance
臨濟忌 ( Rinzai-ki )
(January 10)

Rinzai Day honors the memory of Linji Yixuan (J., Rinzai Gigen), the founder of the Rinzai school, with a special ceremony expressing gratitude for his teachings.

Hyakujo Day Observance
百丈忌 ( Hyakujo-ki )
(January 17)

This holiday commemorates the Chinese master Baizhang Huaihai (J., Hyakujo Ekai), honored as one of the principal Zen ancestors for having laid the foundations of Zen monastic life and architecture, and for having formulated the first Zen monastic rule.

Ceremonies Marking Special Months of Cultivation
善月祈禱会 ( Zengetsu Kito-e )
(January 16, May 16, and September 16)

January, May, and September are months dedicated to the cultivation of good conduct. Special ceremonies are held on the sixteenth day of these three months.

Buddha's Nirvana Ceremony
佛涅槃会 ( Butsu Nehan-e )
(February 15)

The Buddha's Nirvana Ceremony is, along with the Buddha's Birthday Ceremony and the Buddha's Enlightenment Ceremony, one of the year's Three Buddha Ceremonies. In this ceremony, commemorating the death and entrance into Nirvana of Shakyamuni Buddha, a large Nirvana painting is displayed in the ceremony hall, showing the Buddha lying on his right side in a grove of sal trees, his head toward the north and his face toward the west. He is surrounded by weeping gods, humans, and animals. The Nirvana painting shown here is the property of Tenryu-ji.

“Other Shore” Ceremony
彼岸会 ( Higan-e )
(Spring and autumn equinoxes)

The “Other Shore” Ceremony is a memorial service celebrated only in Japan, where it dates back to the time of Shotoku Taishi 聖徳太子 (574-622), one of the country's earliest supporters of Buddhism. It is held on the spring and autumn equinoxes, when the length of the day and the night are equal and thus symbolize the Buddhist Middle Way, making the equinoxes particularly suitable as times to commemorate the joy of enlightenment. In the Rinzai school the occasions are usually celebrated with Segaki ceremonies (offertory ceremonies to the pretas, with recitation of the   Daisegaki   Sutra ), although some regions hold   daihannya-e   ceremonies ( tendoku   readings of the   Large Prajña Paramita Sutra ) or rituals for a bountiful harvest.

Buddha's Birthday Observance
佛誕生会 ( Butsu Tanjo-e )
(April 8)

This ceremony, also known as   Hana-matsuri   花祭り (Flower festival) or the   Kanbutsu-e 灌仏会 (Pouring water on the Buddha ceremony), is one of the Three Buddha Ceremonies. The Hana-matsuri altar has plaques with the Buddha-Bathing Verse on either side, a flower-covered shrine in the middle (representing the Lumbini Garden, where the Buddha was born), and, in front, a basin filled with sweet tea in which stands a small statue of the newly born Buddha, with one hand pointing toward the heavens and the other hand pointing toward the earth. Sweet tea is poured over the top of the statue using small ladles, a custom based on the legend that when the Buddha was born the Dragon King appeared in the sky and poured perfume on the infant to bathe him.

Small Offering to the Pretas
小施食会 ( Sho Sejiki-e )
(July or August 1–14)

The Small Offering to the Pretas, also known as Water Offering to the Pretas, is celebrated every day at 4:00 in the afternoon during the first two weeks of July or August to make offerings to the myriad spirits of the three worlds (the world of desire, the world of form, and the world of no-form) and the ten directions (the four cardinal directions, the four directions between them, plus above and below).

The Temple Gate Offering to the Pretas
山門施餓鬼会 ( Sanmon Segaki-e )
(July or August 15)

The Temple Gate Offering to the Pretas, also known as the Great Offering to the Pretas 大施餓鬼会 , tends in Japan to be equated with the Urabon Ceremony 盂蘭盆会 , since it is celebrated on the same day as that ceremony. The two ceremonies are quite different in origin, however. The Urabon Ceremony has its source in the   Urabon Sutra Preached by the Buddha   佛説盂蘭盆経 , in which Maudgalyayana (J., Mokuren 目連 )—one of the Ten Great Disciples of Shakyamuni, and the one renowned as the greatest in supernatural powers—saw with his supernatural vision that his mother had been reborn as a preta (hungry spirit) and wished to save her. He asked the Buddha what could be done, and the Buddha replied that if oblations were made to the Three Treasures (Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha) on July 15, the day the rainy-season meditation retreat ended, the resulting merit would win salvation for his mother and bring merit to all those who had passed away. Maudgalyayana performed the designated ritual, the first Urabon ceremony.

The Offering to the Pretas Ceremony (Segaki) is similar in concept to the Urabon Ceremony, but has it origins in a story about Ananda, the Buddha's cousin and attendant. Once Ananda was sitting in samadhi when pretas appeared before him and told him that he was to die in three days and be reborn in the realm of the hungry spirits unless he provided limitless amounts of food and drink to the numberless preta and to a hundred thousand Brahmans. They added that if oblations were made to the Three Treasures, then they (the pretas) and others would surely win rebirth in the heavenly realms. Ananda asked the Buddha how to fulfill these requests, and was taught the Segaki ceremony.

Other stories also exist, but this one is representative. Unlike the Urabon Ceremony, no date is fixed for the Segaki, but over the course of time the two have come to be identified with each other and are now celebrated on the same day. The influence of East Asian customs of ancestor worship is evident in both ceremonies.

Bodhidharma Day Observance
達磨忌 ( Daruma-ki )
(October 5)

The Bodhidharma Day Observance (also known as the First Patriarch Observance 初祖忌 and Shorin Observance 少林忌 ) honors the memory of Bodhidharma, the Indian monk said to have brought the Zen teachings from India to China in the sixth century. Together with the Founder's Day Ceremony, it is one of the Two Ancestor Day Celebrations on the annual calendar.

Buddha's Enlightenment Ceremony
佛成道会 ( Butsu Jodo-e )
(December 8)

Together with the Buddha's Nirvana Ceremony and the Buddha's Birthday Ceremony, the Buddha's Enlightenment Ceremony is one of the Three Buddha Ceremonies. The ceremony honors the full enlightenment of Shakyamuni. According to the traditional Zen histories, Shakyamuni was the son of King Suddhodana of Kapilavastu, a city in what is now Nepal. He grew up in sheltered circumstances, married at sixteen and had a son, but at the age of twenty-nine left the palace to live as a homeless seeker after awakening to the suffering of worldly existence. He studied under various meditation teachers without attaining his goal of liberation, and so turned to the path of extreme asceticism. At the age of thirty-five, years of ascetic practices had left him too weak to walk and he collapsed by the side of a river. Restoring his strength with milk received from the milkmaid Sujata, he sat under the Bodhi-tree and vowed to meditate until he had attained liberation. Finally, on the morning of the eighth day of December, he saw the morning star and realized full enlightenment. To commemorate this momentous occasion, Rinzai and Obaku monasteries hold a special meditation retreat every year, known as Rohatsu ozesshin 臘八大攝心 , from December 1 to the morning of December 8. This period is treated as a single day, with no lying down permitted for the entire retreat. The Buddha's Enlightenment Ceremony is held on the morning of December 8 immediately after the conclusion of this retreat.

New Years Eve Ceremony
歳晩諷經・除夜の鐘 ( Saiban fugin, Joya no kane )
(December 31)

This ceremony, also known as Omisoka 大晦日 in Japanese, is held at midnight on the last day of the year to express gratitude for the completion of the year. A purification ritual known as Joya no Kane is performed, in which sutras are read as the temple bell is struck 108 times, symbolizing the dispelling of the 108 worldly attachments.

Founder's Day
開山・祖師毎歳忌 ( Kaisan, Soshi Maisai Ki )
(Celebrated on the anniversary of the temple founder's death)

Founder's Day, one of the most important ceremonies of the year at all head temples, honors the memory of the temple's founding priest and its lineage of abbots. Together with the Bodhidharma Day Observance, it is one of the Two Ancestor Day Celebrations on the annual calendar.