Shunbun no Hi – Vernal Equinox Day

March 24, 2011

I’ve just realized how late I am! Actually, this year’s Shunbun no Hi occurred on March 21, that is to say last Monday. 遅くなって、申し訳ありません。

Shunbun no Hi (春分の日) is a public holiday, that occurs on the date of the vernal equinox, which can be on March 20 or 21. Since astronomical measurements are needed, the date is not declared until February of the previous year.

The original celebration of Spring Equinox dates back to the eighth century and was known as Shunki Korei-sai (春季皇霊祭), a tradition related to Shinto: from 1878  to 1948, this was a day in which the Japanese worshipped the past Emperors.

After 1948, like other Japanese holidays, this holiday was repackaged as a non-religious public holiday for the sake of separation of religion and state in Japanese Constitution.

Nowadays it is a national holiday in Japan; it is considered a day to spend with nature and to express our affection for all living things. In the seven-day period surrounding the Vernal Equinox Day (彼岸 Higan), Japanese people pay respect to their ancestors, just like on New Year’s Day and Obon: they visit their family graves to clean them and offer flowers and incense. They also offer Higan dumplings called Ohagi and Botamochi (springtime treat made with sweet rice and sweet azuki) on thier household altars. These kinds of food have oval or round shapes since, according to the tradition, ancestors’ spirits prefer round food.

They say that after Vernal Equinox Day “the chill of winter finally disappears” and temperatures start to rise. Cherry blossoms, marking the beginning of spring in Japan, often begin to bloom around this time, starting from the southern parts of the country and gradually moving up north as temperatures increase. 




3 Responses to “Shunbun no Hi – Vernal Equinox Day”

  1. Philippe said

    I seem to remember that there is a holiday in Japan to celebrate the blooming of cherry blossoms. Well, maybe it’s not a holiday, but I think people do something special on this occasion. Is it the same holiday as Shunbun no Hi or something different which happens around the same time?

    I like poetry about cherry blossoms, it’s often very beautiful. Here’s a haiku (found in Ivan Morris’s book The Nobility of Failure) written by a twenty-two years old kamikaze, right before he died:

    If only we might fall
    Like cherry blossoms in the Spring…
    So pure and radiant!

    • Chiara said

      I think you are referring to hanami, the habit of watching cherry blossoms. It’s not the same as Shunbun no hi, which represents the end of winter. Hanami cannot be on a fixed day because, as I mentioned, cherries blooms in different moments according to the areas.

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