The kanji (Chinese characters used in Japanese writing) ‘Gan (元)’ in Gantan-e (元旦会) literally means “the first” or “the beginning,” ‘Tan (旦)’ means the sun appearing on the horizon, and ‘E (会)’ is a “Buddhist service.” Therefore, Gantan-e means the first Buddhist service held on New Year’s Day at each HBS temple.
As a general custom, on New Year’s Day, the Japanese people usually go to see the first sunrise and pray to the sun for the New Year’s happiness. But we, HBS members, visit a temple to pray to the Gohonzon (object of worship) instead of going to see the sunrise. In Gantan-e, we sincerely thank the Gohonzon for having passed the old year and welcoming the new year without mishap and pray for a state of perfect health and accomplishing of our missionary works through the new year. At the head temple Yuseiji, Kyoto, even though the Gantan-e starts from twelve o’clock midnight on New Year’s Day, its Hondo (main practice hall) is always filled with members from all over Japan.
For Gantan-e, polished rice and round rice cakes called Kagami-mochi are offered to the Gohonzon (this means, offered to the Primordial Buddha, all of other Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, deities, and three great masters: Nichiren, Nichiryu and Nissen Shonin) according to traditional Japanese habit. Rice is the staple food of the Japanese, so it can be said that rice is our lives because we cannot live without rice. Therefore, these two offerings mean that we offer newly harvested rice in the new year to the Gohonzon as a sign of gratitude for having been able to live a peaceful life last year.
By the way, rice bags pilled up mountain-high in the practice hall are all empty and dummy. They are only to make a gorgeous-solemn atmosphere suitable for New Year’s celebration. Usually, members donate money or a small amount of polished rice instead of real rice bag.
At the end of Gantan-e at Yuseiji, Koyu Shonin (the HBS head priest) announces an annual policy message about our missionary works in the new year called Nentō no Kotoba directly to all HBS members through the world. This has become one of the special features of New Year in HBS.