Saturday, February 24, 2018

Godairiki; The Mochi Test of Strength


The Godairiki is an annual ceremony that is held at Daigoji Temple in Kyoto every year on February 23rd.

During the Godairiki the temple invites visitors to take a challenge of strength in a ceremony which is used to pray for good health. A temporary stage is erected in front of the Kondo hall, which is a national treasure that dates back to an original building from 926 which was constructed by order of the original benefactor and namesake of the temple, Emperor Daigo. After a series of fires, the current building was assembled from a temple that was moved from Wakayama in 1600 by the warlord Hideyori Toyotomi. The Kondo hall houses a statue of Yakushinyorai, the healing Buddha.

The Godairiki event is divided into two separate divisions for men and for women. The Godairiki involves lifting a pallet with giant mochi (rice cakes). The women's mochi weighs 90 kg (200 pounds) and the men's mochi weighs 150 kg (330 pounds).
To enter the mochi lifting contest, godairiki, visitors must pay 2000 yen and fill out a form with their name and address; for this fee, entrants will receive a gift bag with mochi, a handwritten certificate of participation and a paper charm of "the five great wisdom kings" or "go-dairiki" (五大力さん) from which the ceremony draws its name.

After an opening ceremony in which Yamabushi (hermit monks, or members or the Shingon Buddhism sect) blow conch sells then competitors take the stage under the supervision of 2-3 monks. The competitors attempt to pick up the mochi along, with the pallet and hold it off the ground for as long as possible. The challenge is finished when the competitor places the pallet back on the stand, so if a competitor needs assistance then the challenge is incomplete, no matter how long they held up the mochi. This year (2018) the winning challengers (men and women) each held the mochi for about five minutes. The endurance nature of the competition tends to make watching the challenge feel a bit tedious but it creates an interesting scenario for photographers to have a model holding a pose for an extended period of time.

The winning tactic for the godairiki is to draw the pallet back onto your knees with your hand extended as far out onto the pallet as possible and hold a squatting position while the pallet rests upon your abdomen and knees but I found it too difficult to get the pallet off the stand onto my knees as the shape of the pallet prevents you from getting your knees under the center of the pallet (no matter how tall you are). One of the male competitors held the 330 lb. mochi for an impressive 5 minutes
but was too exhausted to return the weight to the stand so he was not eligible for a prize, probably from the weight and crouching posture cutting off circulation to his legs.

There were about 30 female contestants about 60 male contestants, most of whom came prepared with athletic-wear and even knee pads.

The men's competition begins about an hour after the women's competition.

The contest mochi. 200 pound mochi awaiting on the white stand for women, while the 330 pound mochi waits for the men's competition which comes later.

Heaps of mochi line the passage way to Kondo (金堂) hall.

Banners lining the pathway between Kondo hall and the five-storied pagoda ("gojuto" or "goju no to")

A bonfire in front of the statue of the Buddhist figure Fudousan, the immovable saint.
Fudousan is said to be able to burn away the obstacles to enlightenment.

A yamabushi monk performing the bonfire ritual; "goma."

Mochimochiin, the mascot of Daigoji temple and the godairiki ceremony.
Mochimochiin is made to look like two stacked mochi.

Charcters appearing on stage for the opening ceremony.

Monks providing opening prayers.

For the first few contestants, the media is invited on stage for recording.
Initially the audience complained quite vocally; "I can't see!" or "I didn't come to watch the butts of cameramen!"

Gekkon Kamen - The Moonlight Mask. A fictional character, similar to Zorro or the Lone Ranger, who has appeared in media since the 1950s.
He is said to be based on the famous Buddhist statues of Gekko and Gakko.
So he is a very Japanese combination of Buddhist monk, super hero and local mascot.

Mochimochiin being held down the stairs by monks.

The champion of the women's division holding the mochi for about 5.5 minutes.

Note the festive red and white cloth that ties the mochi to the pallet.

Monks hold a stopwatch and announce the endurance duration at about 30 second intervals.

An Australian woman attempting the challenge.
Neither of the two foreigners who attempted the challenge got the mochi off the base.

Kaen houju atop a temple building, the Bentendo (?) dedicated to the bodhisatva of wealth, happiness and music.

A temple to Kanon (?) the bodhisatva of compassion.

The champion of the men's division. Note the tabi boots and knee pads that he is wearing.

This man has participated in this challenge 15 times.

A very stout young man. He held the mochi for an impressive length of time but was unable to set the mochi back on the base.

A gate with many seals that have accumulated over the years.

A traditional Buddhist temple bell.
Note the circular striking point. tsuki-za, while is decorated with a lotus-petal design.

An arched bridge on a pond with small waterfalls.


Visitors throw water on these Buddhist statues.

Jinben daibosatsu.

Joubou rigen daishi



Miroku bosatsu.

Yamabushi rattling a device during a prayer.

Note the motiff of the eight-spoked wheel which is often seen in Buddhist iconography.

The paper charms are waved over the fire for ritualistic purification.

A blade is drawn to cut the ties binding bundles of goma sticks.
Note the shape of the blade handle, which has the unsual shape of a vajra, a strange tool that is iconic in Buddhism.

The five story pagoda.

Characters posing for photos with visitors.

Kondo Hall with festive decorations.

Another kamen character?

The female champion receiving her certificate and a lucky talisman.

She also received the larger of the two mochi she lifted.

The male champion.
Note that he is not a bulky weightlifter type.


The mochi is divided among the top competitors.
Note that the champions get an entire cake, 2nd place gets a half cake while 3rd and 4th get a quarter cake.

Champions posing with a supporter.

Kondo Hall.

Hauling the giant mochi in a wheelbarrow.

Rice bails and wine barrels.

Kazaridaru, decorative sake barrels.
Fushimi breweries are located nearby.

Many festival food stalls.

Note the emblems. The imperial chrysanthemum, kikuman. seals.
At the Toyotomi seals in the center. Toyotmi Hideyori was a major supporter of this temple; supporting the construction of buildings and enjoying cherry blossom viewing here.

Banners in front of the temple;again, note the seals of the imperial family and the Toyotomi clan.

Street notices warning of traffic for the Godairiki ceremony.