Know Your Holiday: Vernal Equinox Day

Don’t you just love those glorious red numbers on the staff room calendar?  Your mind wanders at the sight of them, imagining all the things you’ll be doing on your day off: sleeping in, playing Minecraft, riding your bike, or, more likely, staffing some ESS event.  Regardless, many of us take our holidays without a second thought.  But have you ever wondered what all these Japanese holidays mean?

Well then, today’s your lucky day.  It’s time to Know Your Holiday!  Today’s holiday: Vernal Equinox Day, or 春分の日 (Shunbun no Hi).

seasonsAs the name implies, this day marks the time of year when the sun crosses the equator, making night and day equal in length.  Since it depends on astrological circumstances, the exact date varies from year to year, so its date is announced the previous year in February.  This year, it’s on March 21st.

A brief history: Vernal Equinox Day became a state holiday in 1948, set forth in the Japanese postwar constitution.  Prior to that, it was a Shinto holiday known as Kōreisai (皇霊祭) where people prayed for a good harvest and venerated past ancestor spirits.  However, it was repackaged into Vernal Equinox Day during the American occupation in an effort to separate religion and state.

The seven-day period around the vernal equinox (starting three days before and ending three days afterwards,) is known in Japan as Higan and is a time for families to visit the graves of their ancestors, often cleaning and decorating them with flowers and incense. In case you’re curious, the Higan period also occurs around the autumnal equinox, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves there.

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Vernal Equinox Day is also regarded by many as an unofficial end to winter and beginning of spring.  As such, it’s a great time to enjoy nature and look forward to the cherry blossoms that’ll be blooming here in Ishikawa around April 5th through 8th.

Have fun on Vernal Equinox Day, everyone!

Want to learn more about Vernal Equinox Day?  Give a gander to the sources I used for this article:

Encyclopedia of Shintoism: http://eos.kokugakuin.ac.jp/modules/xwords/entry.php?entryID=735

Japan Holidays for Kids: http://web-japan.org/kidsweb/explore/calendar/march/higan.html

Good ‘ol Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vernal_Equinox_Day

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