Japan National Holidays

Autumnal Equinox Day in Japan Image by Emma Wilson

Autumnal Equinox Day

Pull out your fall wardrobe and plan your koyo viewing, because autumn is upon us. (And did someone say four-day weekend…?)

Every year on either the 22nd or 23rd of September, Japan celebrates Autumnal Equinox Day (秋分の日) or shuubun no hi. This holiday comes right after another one called Respect for the Aged Day (敬老の日), or keirounohi no hi which is celebrated every third Monday of September. Together the two holidays make a highly anticipated four-day weekend.

Similar to Vernal Equinox Day, (春分の日) or shunbun no hi which happens in March, both holidays indicate the change in season with origins rooted in Buddhist and Shinto traditions. With the Autumnal Equinox comes the anticipation for koyo (autumn leaf viewing) season in all it’s orange and red glory.

autumn equinox day

Buddhists believe that the Autumnal Equinox is the time of year where the barrier between the physical world and spirit world is at its thinnest. Sound familiar? Nowadays, many families use this occasion to pray for their departed loved ones by visiting their graves.

At first glance, you might wonder how this holiday differs from Obon (お盆). To put it simply, it differs in terms of emotional, symbolic “movement.” Obon is when everyone goes back to their hometown to pay respect to their loved ones who have passed away and spend time with their family. During Obon, it is believed that the spirits of ancestors come back to the human world, whereas on Autumnal Equinox Day, living family members move toward the spiritual world by praying for their ancestors.

How to celebrate the Autumnal Equinox in Japan

autumn equinox day ohagi

Aside from visiting the cemetery, some Japanese people also eat ohagi (おはぎ). A traditional Japanese sweet that was made popular during the latter part of the Edo period, ohagi is a sweetened rice cake covered in red adzuki beans. On Vernal Equinox day, people enjoy eating a similar rice ball called botamochi (ぼたもち).

The difference between ohagi and botamochi, just comes down to when they are eaten since both use the same ingredients. In spring it’s formed to resemble a peony, while in fall the sweet ball is sometimes shaped to look like a bush clover. You might need to use a little bit of imagination to actually see the resemblance.

Another cool thing that happens around these dates is that the red spider lily or higanbana (彼岸花) starts to bloom. The spider lily blossoms into a bright shade of red that covers forest floors. A popular viewing spot for these unique flowers is Omiya Park in Saitama, which makes for some pretty amazing photos.

English  Japanese Romaji
Autumnal Equinox Day  秋分の日 shuubun no hi
Respect for the Aged Day 敬老の日 keirou no hi
Vernal Equinox Day 春分の日 shubun no hi
Obon お盆 Obon
Sweet red bean covered rice cake (eaten in autumn) おはぎ ohagi
Sweet red bean covered rice cake (eaten in spring) ぼたもち botamochi
Red spider lily 彼岸花 higanbana

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