Equinoctial Week “Ohigan”

“Summar Shore”, 2018


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 seeding and the 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 that 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 that 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 of the ancient animism with the worship of the Sun. Also, there is a close relation to ancestor worship that can be pointed out. It is understandable that the Buddhism philosophy from China derived and combined into the custom of 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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