Silver Week continues in Japan with Higan on Sept. 23

Photo by Takahiro Takiguchi
Photo by Takahiro Takiguchi

Silver Week continues in Japan with Higan on Sept. 23

by Takahiro Takiguchi
Stripes Okinawa

Silver Week in Japan is what marks the start of fall. The week is comprised of two holidays— Respect for the Aged Day and the Autumnal Equinox. During the week, locals take advantage of the great weather and the days off to enjoy various attractions and take short vacations. 

Respect for the Aged Day was on September 20 this year and the Autumnal Equinox falls on Sept. 23.

In Japan, both the Vernal Equinox (Mar. 20 or 21) and Autumnal Equinox (Sept. 22 or 23) have been observed as holidays for more than 1,000 years.

Higan (literally, “other shore”) is a seven-day Buddhist memorial service held on the equinoxes (three days before and after). The concept can be likened to Memorial Day in the United States, in that it is a special time set aside to remember friends and family who have died.

Originally, the Higan ceremony called on devout Buddhists to visit temples and offer prayers for the souls of the dead. Records indicate Higan was widely observed as far back as the 9th century A.D. when the equinoxes became religious holidays and the emperor called on Buddhist monks to read scriptures for these rites.

There is a saying in Japan that, “No heat or cold lasts over the equinox.” The autumnal and spring equinoxes are considered the border, and thus the end, of the respective hot and cold seasons. In Japan’s Buddhist tradition, these times also represent passing from one realm to the next.

Today, people visit family tombs in temples or common cemeteries to offer prayers for deceased family members and friends. Sweet rice-gluten balls, or “ohagi,” are commonly eaten during these periods. (The name ohagi comes from autumn flower “hagi,” or bush clover.)

Enjoy Japan’s harvesting tradition with the taste of autumn!

For more about Japan’s autumn tradition, see the following Stripes Japan stories:

Harvesting Tradition

Speakin’ Japanese – Enjoy the taste of Autumn

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