On either 28 or 29 September, at the autumn equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, Japan observes Autumnal Equinox Day. This has been a public holiday since 1948. Earlier, the same date was the time of the Shinto holiday “Shuki Koreisai”, but separation of state and religion led to the secularisation of that under the 1948 constitution.
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It is at the point of the autumn equinox that days start getting shorter and nights longer, and thus, this holiday is a harbinger of cooler weather ahead. In early times, it was also an occasion for thanking the gods for an abundant harvest and for worshiping ancestors.
Many do still venerate ancestors on Autumnal Equinox Day and visit their graves. They will clean the tombs and adorn them with flowers and plants. People will also hold special family reunions in honour of specific deceased relatives. And Buddhists in Japan believe that the division between the world of the living and the world of the dead is at its “thinnest” this time of year, which is reminiscent of the Western roots of Halloween.
One of the most traditional foods served for Autumnal Equinox Day is botomachi rice balls rolled in azuki sauce. These and other tasty snacks will be consumed in large numbers.