The Autumnal Equinox is the day the sun crosses over the equator from the northern hemisphere to the southern. On this day the sun rises exactly in the East and sets exactly in the West. The word equinox is actually derived from Latin and translates to “equal night” . On the equinox the day and night are almost the exact same length. In Japan the Autumnal Equinox is an important holiday dating back centuries. For the Japanese the equinox is more than a day marking the change in seasons, but a day to give thanks and pay respect to the deceased. In addition to celebrating the Autumnal Equinox the Japanese also celebrate the Vernal Equinox Shunbun no Hi“(春分の日) which usually falls around March.
In Japan the Autumnal Equinox is called Shubun no Hi (秋分の日) and it has been a national holiday since the Meiji Period. The original holiday was called Shuki Koreisai and is believed to have roots stemming in both Buddhism and Shintoism. Following the conclusion of WWII, religion was separated completely from the Japanese government, and Shuki Koreisai became Shubun no Hi, a public holiday rather than a religious one.
Shubun no Hi is celebrated in many different ways. As with most Japanese holidays spending the day with loved ones is always encouraged. Oftentimes there are festivals at local temples. Many choose to celebrate with special Shubun no Hi snacks such as botamochi, a ball of chewy rice in sweet red bean paste. Most importantly, one is meant to give thanks for the harvest and take time to appreciate the beauty of life. If you are visiting Japan during this time make sure to be on the lookout for higanbana (彼岸花) the red spider lily. They are the unofficial flower of Shubun no Hi and bloom heavily around the time of the equinox.