okaicho is that the treasured Buddhist icons and Buddha's ashes are unveiled to public to join hands in prayer. The beginning of the Gokaicho was ancient China.There is the record that the bones of digits of hand of Buddha was opened to hope for the realization of peace and prosperity in Houmonji in November Genna Era 13year (818).
In Japan at 1235, "Meigetsuki" said that the image of Zenkoji was made public and people gathered.
Zenkoji was built by Imperial command in 642, it's 1360years ago. Ever since, Zenkoji was believed in irrespective of age and sex.
The Zenkoji principal image is called as "Ikkousanzon (triad) Amida Nyorai" because of Amitabha Tathagata flanked by standing depictions of two attendants Bodhisattvas, Kannon to Amida's left and Seishi to his right in the scaph-mandorla.
Gakkai, wealthy man, had a daughter, whose name was Princess Nyoze. The only thing he lacks was her. One day, Princess Nyoze became serious ill. Gakkai summoned a famous doctor named Giba, but he could do anything for it and gave up despair. Gakkai made a pilgrimage to Shaka's residence and implored his help in saving his daughter. Though Princess Nyoze had already near-death , she was brought back to life. Gakkai was so profoundly grateful that he went back to the residence of Shaka.
It caused that Shaka and Amida made transform the gold into a living manifestation of Amida and his two attendants by their miracle. This ultimately becomes the main icon of Zenkoji through India and Paekcke. It is also told that the first Buddhist image came to Japan in 552.
In 602, the triad issued an oracle, saying that it would be moved to Imoi Village in Minochi County (Now:Nagano city). Then it has been Hibutsu(secret Buddha), no longer be seen in its shine since 654. It makes unalterable belief to hibutsu, after all, to go and worship at main hall of hibutsu is most gratifying and it becomes a part of life in people. If people can see and worship the icon at any time they wished, the spiritual resonance of this activity would devalued.
In contrast, Maedachi Honzon was made by Yoshimitsu Honda , the Image that stands in front, which was very spiritual and image of the icon of Zenkoji. The doors of Maedachi Honzon are opened every 7th year to reveal the icon in a ceremony called "Gokaicho (opening the curtains)".
There were two types, "Igaicho" to be around and "Degaicho"to carry out in the three cities (Edo,Kyoto,Osaka). At present, Igaicho is commonly known as Gokaicho. Gokaicho(=Maedachi Honzon Gokaicho) have popular usage since Tokugawa Period. At that time, Gokaicho was at random times. Gokaicho has every 7th year that has existed since the Meiji Era.
It makes "Seven"significant numbers to look on the phases of the moon and the astrology. There is the custom proper to Nagano to get everything by heart in Gokaicho period.
The main purpose of visiting Gokaicho is to have the honor of seeing Maedachi Honzon ,to "Goimonchoudai"to be presented with the stamp named Houin Sanhan on the forehead that guide to paradise fulfill promise, and to lay a hand on "Ekou Bashira( very symbol of Gokaicho)" to form a connection with Maedachi Honzon tied a string(Zen no Tsuna).
Now Nagano, it was Zenkouji colony with only 250 goku in Edo Period, is the capital city of Nagano prefecture and known throughout the world for Olympic host cities. We say that Zenkoji and its Gokaicho is source of growth of Nagano, because Zenkouji is the temple accessible to anybody and brings a lot of people.
Mr.Shuei Wakaomi, the representative of Zenkoji, gave a complete description of the history and the meaning of Gokaicho(1997). (The article of Shinano Mainichi News which appeared in the April 6th 1997 issue)