Autumnal Equinox Day(September 23rd)

Semtember 23rd is “Autumnal Equinox Day” in Japan, and the season will change to autumn after this day.

秋分の日は海外にもあるの?英語で説明できるようになるには? - ネイティブキャンプ英会話ブログ

The meaning of “Autumnal Equinox Day”

“Autumnal Equinox Day” is one of the national holidays in Japan, and it is the day to “worship ancestors and mourn for the deceased.”

The exact date of “Autumnal Equinox Day” is different every year, but it is supposed to be September 22nd or 23rd. “Autumnal Equinox Day” is designated on “Calendar and Ephemeris” announced by “National Astronomical Observatory of Japan.”

“Autumnal Equinox Day” is also called “Ohigan” in Japanese, and it is the day of visiting to ancestor’s grave. There are twice a year, “Ohigan” in March and “Ohigan” in September.


How does this “Autumnal Equinox Day” relate to “Ohigan”?  “O-higan お彼岸,” “higan 彼岸” means the other world (heaven) where our ancestors belong to.  The antonym of “higan” is “shigan 此岸” means this world, the place we are living. In Buddhist concept, “higan” places in West, and “shigan” places in East.  Then, “Autumnal Equinox Day” likewise “Spring Equinox Day,” the sun rises from the directly east and sets in the west, and thus the anceint people recognize that this is the day that the distance between  “higan” and “shigan” approaches the closest. And therefore, this “Autumnal Equinox Day” has become the most appropriate timing for us to worship our ancestors. Then, it became the day for us to visit to ancestor’s grave

By the way, Autmunal “O-higan お彼岸” refers a week, includes “Autumnal Equinox Day” and 3 days backward and forward.  In case of this year, 2021,  “O-higan お彼岸” is September 20th to September 26th, and “Autumnal Equinox Day” or so called “the middle day of O-higan お彼岸” is September 23rd.


The typical food symbolizing “Autumnal Equinox Day”

おはぎ(ohagi, an oval shaped Japanese sweet, covered by sweet red bean paste)

秋分の日の食べ物にはルールがあった!?なにを食べたらいいの? | ジャパカレ

On “Autumnal Equinox Day”, the middle day of “O-higan お彼岸,” Japanese people have the special custom to eat “ohagi.” “Ohagi” is an oval shaped Japanese sweet, covered by sweet red bean paste. Red (the color of red bean paste) symbolizes an amulet, which can protect us from evil. Also, sugar, one of the materials of “ohagi” used to be very expensive items, and therefore “ohagi” itself was also very special and luxurious items for the common people in Edo period. Thus, “ohagi” also became the special offering for the ancestors on “Autumnal Equinox Day.”

彼岸花(Higanbana, Red spider lily)

彼岸花の花言葉は?呼び名・別名はたくさんある!?38種を紹介 - 気になる話題・おすすめ情報館


Red spider lily is very mysterious flower, symbolizing the flower during “O-higan お彼岸.”

From the mid to the end of September, we often see red spider lily around the cemetery and a footpath between rice fields. The other name for this mysterious flower is “曼珠沙華(まんじゅしゃげ),” meaning “the flower blooming in the heaven” in Sanskrit language.

It is said that the pollen, leaves or a stalk of Red spider lily contains the poisonous components, and therefore it might be efficient to get rid of moles and rats. Thus, red spider lily have been used to be planted in order to protect  our ancestors’ graves or rice fields from the ancient times.

However, there is a mysterious episode related to red spider lily, due to its unique ecosystem. Usually a plant first spreads its leaves, and then blooms, however red spider lily first blooms then spreads its leaves. We do not see the leaves and flower of red spider lily at the same time, and therefore the red spider lily’s ecosystem is explained as “葉見ず花見ず (no leaves and no flowers ),” has made people feel scared.  It is also called “the flower of death” or “the flower of hell.”

花言葉】彼岸花の意味と由来!怖い意味は本当?開花時期・別名などもご紹介! | Clover(クローバー)

Now, there are several famous places we can enjoy watching red spider lily, especially “Kinchakuda Manjushage Park, 巾着田(きんちゃくだ)曼珠沙華公園 ” is broadly known by its size. In Kansai area, there is “Higanbana no sato, 彼岸花の里” or “O-hara no sato 大原の里” in Kyoto.

On Autumnal Equinox Day, we can experiment the Japanese common habits and customs by worshiping the ancestor’s graves, and feel the changes of the season. If you are in Japan, why don’t you spend autumnal equinox day with the Japanese family together, tasting “ohagi,” and enjoy feeling the start of autumn?



Follow me!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please enter the result of the calculation above.