What is Rohatsu?
Rohatsu is the celebration of the day the Buddha reached enlightenment according to the Zen Buddhist Tradition. This day is also called Bodhi Day by Mahayana Buddhists. This Buddhist holiday celebrates the historical Buddha (also known as Siddhārtha Gautama or Buddha Shakyamuni). Rohatsu is the celebration of the day the Buddha reached enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree.
Who celebrates Rohatsu?
There are several Buddhist traditions who hold different holidays in celebration of the Buddha becoming awakened. Rohatsu is a distinctly Zen Buddhist celebration, but both Rohatsu and Bodhi Day fall upon the same day every year: December 8th. Rohatsu in Japanese translates to “the eighth day of the twelfth month.” Originally, the holiday used to be held on the eighth day of the 12th lunar month (which typically falls somewhere in the month of January), but in the 19th century Japan adopted the westernized Gregorian calendar and Japanese Buddhists adopted fixed dates for many holidays.
How is Rohatsu Celebrated in Japan?
Rohatsu is not a public nor widespread holiday, due to the fact that only about 34% of the Japanese population is Buddhist. In Zen Buddhism, Rohatsu is the final day of a week-long meditation retreat known as a sesshin. During a sesshin all waking hours of the day are spent in deep meditation. Even in the time spent away from the designated meditation space/ hall, one is expected to be silent and remain mindful at all times. The sesshin leading up to Rohatsu is one of great importance as it is when monks resolve to manifest the Buddha’s determination to reach enlightenment. Some monks even choose to fast during Rohatsu.
Following the holiday in big cities, like Tokyo, and even small villages it is common to see colorful lights displayed. The different colors are meant to symbolize the many different ways one can reach enlightenment. Bodhi tree plantings are sometimes held all throughout the following month, and some choose to celebrate with the traditional meal of tea and cakes.