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Vernal Equinox Day

Vernal Equinox Day 2018 and 2019

Vernal Equinox Day is a Japanese public holiday that celebrates the arrival of spring.

YearDateDayHoliday
201821 MarWedVernal Equinox Day
201921 MarThuVernal Equinox Day
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In Japanese, Vernal Equinox Day is known as Shunbun no Hi. The holiday is celebrated on the day of the spring equinox. On the Gregorian calendar, this day is often March 20 or 21. Along with celebrating warm weather and nature, many people use Vernal Equinox Day to honor their ancestors. On Vernal Equinox Day, many people enjoy the outdoors while reconnecting with their families.

History

Vernal Equinox Day is the result of a long and interesting history that is quite unique to Japan. In the 8th century, many people in Japan were followers of a religion known as Shintoism.

These Shinto people were animistic, so they believed that every natural object possessed a spiritual force, or kami. Because of this, the Japanese people protected and worshiped nature in all forms. This included stones, trees, shrubs, rivers, lakes, and many other natural objects. During the spring months, living things like trees and flowers thrived, so the followers of the Shinto religion celebrated.

In time, the spring equinox became the official day for celebrating the Shinto religion and the arrival spring. The spring equinox was chosen as the day for the celebration because that is when the duration of both night and day are equal. Today, the spring equinox is known as the first day of spring. In modern times, the majority of Japanese society practices the main principles of Shintoism. Despite this, a very small percentage of Japanese population claims to be Shinto. This has caused the current Vernal Equinox Day to be centered around an appreciation for spring instead of traditional Shinto beliefs. Vernal Equinox Day became an official holiday in Japan in 1948.

Celebrating Vernal Equinox Day

Japanese people celebrate Vernal Equinox Day in many ways depending on their preferences and family traditions.

  • Family Reunions

    Vernal Equinox Day also serves the purpose of keeping families united throughout the year. Since Japan is an industrialized nation, many Japanese families are separated due to job opportunities in different cities. During the holiday, many people travel to their family home to enjoy the company of their relatives.

  • Visiting the Graves of Ancestors

    In many ways, Vernal Equinox Day is very similar to China’s Qingming, or Grave Sweeping Day. Just like the Chinese do for Qingming, the Japanese people clean the graves of their ancestors on Vernal Equinox Day. People who observe Vernal Equinox Day will often go to their family’s grave plot in the morning to trim overgrown grass, pull weeds, and rake fresh dirt to the surface. After the graves have been tidied up, people may leave flowers and burn incense. This tradition is oriented around filial piety and ancestor worship.

  • Traveling to the Great Outdoors

    After respects have been paid to ancestors and other fallen family members, people will often take advantage of the holiday to travel to a place to relax. Since the weather is often nice on Vernal Equinox Day, many people go to natural places like beaches and parks. By enjoying nature, people are able to relax while paying respect to the same things that their ancestors revered through Shinto beliefs.

  • Food

    Vernal Equinox Day is not heavily centered around food like many Western holidays, but many Japanese families will enjoy a spring treat called ohagi. Ohagi is a dessert that is made of sweet glutinous rice and azuki paste. Ohagi is made by molding azuki paste around balls of sweet rice. There are many flavors and variations of ohagi. Ohagi is also known as botamochi.

  • Seeing Cherry Blossoms

    One of the most popular symbols of spring in Japan is the cherry blossom, or sakura. These can be seen in various parts of Japan by the end of spring. During Vernal Equinox Day, cherry blossoms can usually be seen in southern Japan. One of the most popular places to see cherry blossoms during the blooming season is Shinjuku Garden in Tokyo.

  • Visiting Shrines

    Although many people in Japan do not officially consider themselves to be followers of Shintoism, it is a common practice to visit Shinto shrines on Vernal Equinox Day. Followers of the Shinto religion believe that these shrines hold kami, or spirits. Today, people go to these shrines for spiritual guidance or tourism. Because of the large influence of Shintoism on Japanese society, there are many shrines in areas across Japan. Some of the best areas for visiting Shinto shrines are Hokkaido and Tohoku. There are also many shrines in Kanto, Tokyo, and Okinawa.

Places to Celebrate Vernal Equinox Day

There are many enjoyable outdoor places to celebrate Vernal Equinox Day in Japan.

Some of the most frequently visited places during Vernal Equinox Day are:

  • Matsumae Park in Hokkaido
  • Hirosaki Park in Aomori
  • Ka-jo Castle Park in Yamogata

Kakunodate in AkitaVernal Equinox Day in Japan is a holiday that gives people an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors with their friends and families.