Equinoctial Week “Ohigan”

“Summar Shore”, 2018

[日本語]

When comparing to the western myth and culture, there are a few stories, poetry, and gods relating to the stars in Japan. However, there are many of them associated with the Moon and the Sun. The reason most likely can refer to the farming culture in which Japanese history built. In ancient Japanese myth, the Goddess of the Sun bestowed an ear of rice to people. In the old time, knowledge of configuring the particular date by the Moon and the Sun for farming was necessary, such as vernal equinox for a seeding and autumn equinox for harvesting.

The equinoctial week is called “Ohigan/Higan” which is two periods of seven days with the center day falling on the vernal or autumn equinox, with the equinoxes being public holidays since 1948. Higan is a Buddhist terminology which means the other shore or the land of Enlightenment. During the periods, families visit a grave of relatives to clean up and pray for their ancestors. In Japanese Buddhism manner, it is believed that the deceased will be able to go to the world of perfect bliss, Nirvana, by holding a memorial service for ancestors.
Although all the above there are no other Buddhist countries share the same custom.

According to the official record, the first ceremonial event of Ohigan [Higan-e(彼岸会)] was held by the emperor in 806 AD. However, the folklore studies say that the custom of celebrating equinox days is the origin in the ancient animism with the worship of the Sun. Also, there is a close relation to ancestor worship can be pointed out. It is understandable that the Buddhism philosophy from China derived and combined into the custom of the celebrating equinoxes after the introduction of Buddhism in the 6th century. The idea of Western Pure Land was also introduced. It was considered that the west is the direction for the other side of the world (Higan), and the east is THIS world (called Shigan).

It is said that on the day of an equinox, which the sun rises due east and sets due west, the path between the two different worlds open and become accessible with each other. It is the reason Japanese people visit a grave and hold memorial service. Though the source of this custom is unclear, there is no question that people in old time sincerely regarded equinox as a unique moment.
 
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お彼岸と春分・秋分

西洋の神話、文化と比べると、日本には月と太陽についてはとても多いのに、星に関連した物語、詩文、神々は限られています。理由は歴史の礎となった農耕文化にあるのでしょう。神話では太陽の女神が人々に稲穂を授け、春分の種まき、秋分の刈り取りの様に、古代の農耕では月と太陽から特定の日を知ることは重要でした。

お彼岸は春分・秋分日を中心にした7日間の期間を指します。1948年には、春分と秋分の日が祝日に制定されました。彼岸は仏教用語で対岸、悟りの地のこと。この期間、家族で墓参りに赴き墓掃除や先祖に祈りを捧げます。日本の仏教では、先祖に祈りを捧げることで死者が極楽浄土へ行けるとされています。とはいえ、この風習は日本以外の仏教国では見られません。

一番最初の彼岸会の記録は806年。時の天皇によって開かれています。ただ、民俗学によれば春分・秋分の日の祭典は古代の太陽を信仰するアニミズム(万物精霊観)にあったとされ、先祖信仰との関わりも指摘されています。6世紀以降に中国から伝えられた仏教哲学が、そうした風習に取り入られ、結合したと考えるのは難しくありません。その時に西方信仰、西方に浄土があるという説も渡ってきました。西は彼岸(あの世)、東がこちら側の世界とする考え方です。

太陽が真東から昇り、真西に沈む春分・秋分の日に、両者の道が開き互いに通じ合うとされています。それがお彼岸のお墓参りの理由です。習慣の源流には不明な点もありますが、古代の人たちが春分・秋分日に特別な敬意を払っていたことに疑問はありません。

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