If you are planning to visit the Hall of the Great Vow (HoGV) 大聖堂, please secure a Letter of Introduction from your home country’s SGI office. Otherwise, you won’t be able to visit.
Thanks to my mother’s advice, I went straight to the Josei Toda Center from Shinanomachi 信濃町駅 Station to receive my ticket for the HoGV around 10:30 am — quite early. You never how crowded the HoGV may be that day, so it’s best to go earlier than later to secure your ticket!
The Meeting at the SGI Hall of the Great Vow 大聖堂
Every foreign guest has a short presentation about how to use the iPad for the HoGV, the surrounding building that are open to visitors, and general instruction such as “no taking photos except in these designated areas.” After the mini introduction, you learn more details about when you may enter the HoGV, which was 1:30 pm (13:30) for me.
The gongyo starts promptly at 2:30 pm (14:30), every Tuesday-Saturday. And some meetings have over 100 foreigners in attendance. At my meeting, we had about 33 foreigners and ~650 Japanese members. The HoGV had the capacity to seat double, if not triple that number.
Exploring Shinanomachi 信濃町
Since I arrived so early, I had some time to explore the surrounding buildings and take commemorative photos with Daisaku and Kaneko Ikeda. After doing so, I walked around the vicinity to find a suitable place for lunch. Immediately, my eyes fell in love with a tiny, hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant.
In the past 3.5 months, I’ve had the opportunity to eat Chinese, Italian, Korean, Turkish, Indonesian / Malaysian, and now Indian. Of course, I’ve also had spectacular tofu kaiseki, normal kaiseki, yakitori izakaya, home-cooked Japanese meals, kaiten sushi, tamagoyaki, oyakodonburi, and many more typical Washoku (Japanese-style) dishes. At the Indian restaurant, I happily ordered a whopping serving of delicious garlic naan with a chicken and egg omelet.
Ignoring my 85% gluten-free diet, I chowed down and spoke with the Indian waiter. While eating, I was also able to call my parents, who were absolutely thrilled! They informed me that they would be chanting at the same time as my meeting in the HoGV, but in San Francisco. How cool! And we talked about the experience I was planning to give that same weekend in Kobe at a Kansai International SGI Meeting. Before hanging up, my mother encouraged me to donate, or kifu, at the reception area of the Visitors Hall.
After my scrumptious lunch, I went to the Peace Center to chant for about ~25 minutes with about ~350 people. Apparently, I was in the 24-hour chanting room. Since it’s open 24-hours, they do not have anyone formally leading the chanting. As such, it was a bit difficult to concentrate, since everyone around me was chanting at different speeds. But, I’m glad I went.
After asking about where I could donate, they told me to visit another building right across the street. I filled out my information and donation amount, and then proceeded upstairs. Greeted by so many warm volunteers, I was led to one table with an English-speaking, 61-year-old woman. I handed her my donation and a printed letter to President Daisaku Ikeda 大作池田様.
Earlier in the week, I had decided to write, type, and print a letter that I figured I could have delivered in the Shinanomachi area. It just so happened to be in the exact same location as the donation space, although there may have been other places as well.
The kind woman personally thanked me for both my letter and donation on behalf of President Daisaku Ikeda. Then she proceeded to ask me a number of friendly questions about my family, before presenting me with a few parting gifts as souvenirs and a way to commemorate my visit.
And the Official Meeting Begins...
As soon as I left the building around 1:27 pm (13:27), it was time to enter the HoGV, even though I technically still had an hour. But, I figured that I could chant, use the bathroom, get a good seat, and chat with other foreigners. Before I entered, however, I took commemorative photos both behind and in front of the HoGV. After all, I wanted to send it to my parents and SGI friends both in Japan and the U.S.
Upon entering the building, I was escorted up to the 3rd floor, where I could sit with an iPad that would translate the entire meeting from start-to-finish in about 9 different languages. An entire row of Korean SGI 創価学会 members sat behind me, while on my left-hand side, there was a family of 3 Indians and 2 Taiwanese folks. On my right-hand side, there was a family of 4 Singaporeans. And 2 Thai folks and 1 Singaporean were seated directly in front of me. Apparently, there were also about 3 Americans, but I didn’t know who they were.
Promptly at 2:30 pm (14:30), a video started to play about the history of the building. Then, we had a young man read Sensei’s Vow for Kosen Rufu, before a young woman read the Gosho (Writings of Nichiren Daishonin) “On Repaying Debts of Gratitude.” Following the Gosho, a woman’s division leader shared some guidance, before a men’s division leader led gongyo in conjunction with a recording of President Daisaku Ikeda’s recorded voice.
The Most Thrilling Part
It was quite a unique experience to do gongyo and chant with a recording of Sensei’s voice. But the most surprising aspect for me, was when they opened the mesmerizing gold Gohonzon. I gasped with amazement! In it, there was an equally spectacular scroll, with a dark blue/black background, and bright gold characters. Never before had I seen anything so enchanting.
Later on, I learned that there are a few in Japan. And although I’ve attended meetings in Cuba, Costa Rica, Spain, America, Korea, and even Japan, I had never seen anything like it before. It was the highlight of my day!
We all chanted together with Sensei for about 15 minutes, before formally concluding the meeting. Overall, it was a fun morning and early afternoon adventure that ended with another commemorative gift — a HoGV pamphlet. All in all, it’s an experience that I highly recommend for foreign visitors.