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Butsudan in Japan

Deep in the heart of Buddhism, a special relic called Butsudan (literally - the house of the Buddha) acts as a religious shrine for the devout. Many call it an 'altar' but this is possibly not the right term because according to the Webster Dictionary, an altar is a structure of worship or offering but this is not the case for butsudans. The butsudan is more like a shelter or a shelf that a devout Buddhist used to display and store their treasure - their object of devotion.

Buddhism points towards a so-called enlightenment through the empowering of the mind or meditation. A devout have to denounce most worldly things and set their focus on the things that are only a part of their devotion - their personal Gohozon. The Gohozon can be a carving or portrait of Siddhartha or The Buddha, important mandalas (a Buddhist scroll which is believed to help Buddhist practitioner in focusing towards their goal which is finding their sacred space), or sometimes maybe even images of a deceased relative whom they want to honor or remember. A butsudan is a cabinet-like shrine that holds and protects the Gohozon. The butsudan is usually made of wood and this sacred relic features a door which is opened during the morning or during important religious rituals and it has to be closed before sunset.

During Japan's Obon holidays, the time wherein the spirits of the ancestors are honored, the people return to their hometowns to visit the graves of their ancestors and offer incense in their butsudans. It is believed that during the Obon holidays, the spirits of the deceased relatives revisit this worldly realm through the butsudans. It is one's duty to clean and dust butsudans as often as possible. When butsudans are dusty, it is considered a dishonor to the Gohozon or to the deceased relative.

Aside from being a religious relic, the butsudan is now a delicate design for Japanese-inspired establishment such as sushi restaurants or tea houses. The butsudan usually displays different sacred objects called by many as 'altar accessories' or butsugus. Colorful candles, a tray of fruits, tea or sake pot, and incense holders are the common butsugus seen in a butsudan.

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