This weekend we’re experiencing the Vernal Equinox; one of two times of the year when the hours of light in the day are equal to the hours of darkness at nighttime (the term “equinox” is derived from the Latin aequus, meaning equal, and nox, meaning night). The Vernal Equinox takes place during the springtime (for those populations in the northern hemisphere, at least), when the days are getting longer; during the fall, when the reverse takes place, we experience the Autumnal Equinox. As I type this post, the sun is on the exact same plane as the Earth’s equator!
In Japan, the Vernal Equinox – or in this case, the working day after the Vernal Equinox – is a national holiday, and a very busy time. Up until 1948 the Japanese celebrated a holiday called Shunki kōrei-sai (春季皇霊祭), an imperial festival where the ancestors of the Japanese were worshipped and celebrated. After 1948 this holiday became known as Shunbun no Hi (春分の日), and was designated as a day when the Japanese would celebrate nature and all things living. However, even though the meaning of the holiday has officially been changed, many Japanese people take time on this day to visit their family tombs and to pay respects to their ancestors. These family tombs are weeded and cared for, and flowers, incense and ohagi (sweet rice balls – the spirits of the ancestors are said to prefer round foods) are left at the tombs. Traffic in Tokyo is particularly heavy as many people visit the expansive Tama Bochi (Tama Cemetery) during this time.
Meanwhile, Japanese Buddhists are celebrating this auspicious day as well, as they observe the holiday of Higan (彼岸).
Happy Vernal Equinox!