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Shuubun no Hi or Autumnal Equinox Day

Date Published: Last Update:2015/05/14 Traditional Culture , , ,

Today is Autumnal Equinox Day or 秋分の日 (Shuubun no Hi) in Japan. It is a public holiday which usually occurs on September 22 or 23 or the date of southward equinox in Japanese Standard Time (UTC+09:00).

Automnal Equinox

Scientifically speaking, the autumnal equinox is the day when the sun crosses the equator from the Northern to the Southern Hemisphere. During this day, the sun rises exactly in the east and sets exactly in the west. On this day also, day and night is of the same length. But after this day, days will be shorter than nights in the Northern Hemisphere. Countries in the Northern Hemisphere may observe that in the following days after the Autumnal Equinox, around 6:00PM will already be dark or the sun has already set. This will be the opposite for the countries in the Southern Hemisphere, for today is Spring Equinox, starting tomorrow, days will be longer than nights.

Higan

Aside from it is an astronomical event, Shubun no Hi is also a holiday for celebrating dead ancestors. In Japan, the 7 days around the equinoxes (three days before and three days after it), is collectively called Higan. Higan has Buddhist origins. It literally means the “other side of the river of death”. The two sides of the river represents the worlds of life and death. During these days, Japanese families honor and pray for the repose of the deceased ancestors. It is different from Obon where the spirits of the dead are said to visit the houses of their relatives. This time around, living relatives are the ones who visit graves. They clean the tombs and offer prayers and flowers. They also burn incense sticks. A popular offering during the visit is Ohagi.

Ohagi

ohagi

Ohagi. (Photo by kuromeri on Flickr)

Ohagi vs Botamochi

Ohagi are sweet rice balls which are made with glutinous rice covered with adzuki bean paste or soybean flour. They look like botamochi, but following the tradition, ohagi is made during the Autumn Higan and botamochi is during the Spring Higan.

botamochi

Botamochi. (Photo by Hiroshi Yoshinaga on Flickr)

Higan, for Buddhists, is also a good time to focus on the 6 Perfections: Dana (generosity),  Sila (virtue), Ksanti (patience), Virya (effort), Dhyana (meditation, also ‘zen’), and Prajna (wisdom). As a the worlds of death and life are separated by a river, the Buddhists believe the 6 Perfections will be the bridge to cross from life to Nirvana.

In your country, are there activities during the Autumnal Equinox Day? Give us comments below.

Sources:

1. Autumnal Equinox Day, Kids Web Japan

2. Botamochi for spring, Ohagi for fall: Sweet Japanese rice and bean cakes, Just Hungry

3. Shuubun no Hi, Everyday’s a Holiday.

 

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