Every year on either the 22nd or 23rd of September, Japan celebrates Autumnal Equinox Day (秋分の日) or shuubun no hi. This holiday comes right after another one called Respect for the Aged Day (敬老の日), or keirounohi no hi, which is celebrated every third Monday of September. Together the two holidays make a highly anticipated four-day weekend.
Similar to Vernal Equinox Day, (春分の日) or shunbun no hi which happens in March, both holidays indicate the change in season with origins rooted in Buddhist and Shinto traditions. With the Autumnal Equinox comes the anticipation for koyo (autumn leaf viewing) season in all it’s orange and red glory.
Buddhists believe that the Autumnal Equinox is the time of year where the barrier between the physical world and spirit world is at its thinnest. Sound familiar? Nowadays, many families use this occasion to pray for their departed loved ones by visiting their graves.
At first glance, you might wonder how this holiday differs from Obon (お盆). To put it simply, it differs in terms of emotional, symbolic “movement.” Obon is when everyone goes back to their hometown to pay respect to their loved ones who have passed away and spend time with their family. During Obon, it is believed that the spirits of ancestors come back to the human world, whereas on Autumnal Equinox Day, living family members move toward the spiritual world by praying for their ancestors.
How to celebrate the Autumnal Equinox in Japan
Aside from visiting the cemetery, some Japanese people also eat ohagi (おはぎ). A traditional Japanese sweet that was made popular during the latter part of the Edo period, ohagi is a sweetened rice cake covered in red adzuki beans. On Vernal Equinox day, people enjoy eating a similar rice ball called botamochi (ぼたもち).
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