The Vernal Equinox, Shunbun no Hi, is a celebration of the March equinox which astrologically marks the beginning of Spring. On this day the day and night are the same length as the sun rises exactly in the east and sets exactly in the west. It unofficially indicates the end of the cold winter season and welcomes the start of the sakura (cherry blossom) season. In Japan this day is a public holiday and many will have the day off for celebrations. However, prior to the 1948 post war constitution which separated Church and State a Shinto holiday was held on this day called: Shunki Koreisai. After the post war constitution it was changed to Vernal Equinox Day as a non religious holiday that celebrates a love of nature and all things living.
While this holiday does not have any religious affiliations many still celebrate with Shinto traditions. The previous holiday was a celebration to honor past emperors of Japan, now on during the Vernal Equinox families travel to reunite and spend time together. Furthermore, families will visit burial sites of their ancestors. It is common practice to clean gravestones and replant flowers in their honor.
Shunbun no Hi is a part of a seven day celebration called Haru no Higan. Higan translates to “another world”. This week pays tribute to the spirits particularly those of loved ones. There are two higan seasons every year each corresponding to the equinoxes. During this time it is common to travel to ancestral grave sites and eat Botamochi which is a chewy ball of sweet rice. It is often used as an offering at shrines, temples, and graves all across Japan.