The coming 20th of March is a Vernal Equinox Day called SHUNBUN NO HI. Japan calls this special week surrounding the Spring Equinox day OHIGAN. The Autumn Equinox Day in September is called SHUBUN NO HI and also called the special week OHIGAN. These equinox days are public holidays since 1948.
It is believed that people taking care of family graves during this period will be promised to go to paradise, therefore it is a common family event for Japanese to visit their family graves, pay respect and commemorate their death in the OHIGAN week.
In Buddhism, HIGAN implies enlightenment and means the other side of the river. The river divides the land of the living (SHIGAN) and the land of the dead (HIGAN) and represents pains you have to overcome to attain enlightenment.
As the length of day and night are almost equal on the day of OHIGAN, it is believed that ancestors can easily cross the River Styx and come back to this side. Therefore, people in the land of the living clean the family graves, place flowers and incense, and offer the dead person’s favorites to appreciate the ancestors.
There is a special bean-cake for this season. It is called BOTAMOCHI in spring and OHAGI in autumn though they are all the same flavor. BOTAMOCHI is named after tree peonies called BOTAN in Japanese and OHAGI is named after Japanese bush clover called HAGI in Japanese.
People used to make this sticky rice ball coated with red bean paste made from AZUKI at home but nowadays many people buy it at store. They believe this sweet protects from bad luck.
There is a Japanese saying that “No heat or cold remains after the equinox”. Each equinox day reminds Japanese people of not only visiting the family graves but reuniting their family occasionally.
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