Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Sept 22 Japan Celebrates Autumnal Equinox

Autumnal Equinox Day is a public holiday in Japan, falling on the date of the Southward equinox in Japan Standard Time. This year the holiday will be celebrated on September 22nd

Originally related to Shintoism, the holiday was reconstructed to be a non-religious holiday -- for the sake of the separation of religion and state

It was officially declared a public holiday in 1948. In many cultures equinox day simply marks the changing of seasons, but to the Japanese it represents a way to pay respects to parents, grandparents, and other loved ones who have passed. 

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The Japanese refer to this period of time as "higan", meaning "other side of the river". Lasting for seven days, beginning three days before the equinox and ending three days after, higan is a time when the Japanese pray for their ancestors and visit family graves. This tradition has roots deep within the Buddhist tradition. Higan represents a side of the river in which people live, the other side is the realm where the souls who have passed live on.  

The Japanese people pay their respects in various ways, including cleaning the tombstones of their loved ones, offering flowers and food, praying, and burning incense. One of the more popular and traditional foods to offer is ohagi, adzuki-bean paste or soybean flour covered rice. 

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Bon, which occurs in August, is a time in Japanese culture when the souls of their ancestors come to visit them, so it is important to honor them by returning the visit during higan. 

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