This is one of my favorite Japanese holidays: shuubun no hi celebrates the entry of the country into this beautiful season of autumn and maple leaves. Originally a religious celebration, this day is now a call to celebrate the passing of time and the changing of the seasons (because as we all know, Japan prides itself on having … 4 seasons, at least! )

The shuubun no hi (“day of the autumn equinox”) is anchored in the Buddhist traditions of the country

The shuubun no hi ( 秋分(し ゅ う ぶ ん)()) takes place immediately after Respect for the Elderly Day, on September 22 or 23 depending on the year. This is an opportunity for the Japanese to take a day off to do nothing go for a walk, see their loved one and eat delicious ohagi (お は ぎ).

If the beautiful autumn leaves are not yet there for amateur photographers, it is however right the period to go to see the magnificent fields of amaryllis of Japan ( 彼岸花(ひ が ん ば な)), this bright red flower that draws pink at the end of the season.

shuubun no hi, Japanese Amaryllis, higan bana

On that day, the veil between the physical world and the spiritual world is lifted …

The equinox is an astronomical event that takes place one day in spring and fall, during which the sun changes hemisphere. As the length of the day equals that of the night on this occasion, many cultures see this change as a highly symbolic event. This is the case in Asia.

Japan has celebrated the autumn equinox for centuries. Originally, this day was called shuuki koureisai, roughly the “autumn commemoration of the imperial spirits”. Buddhists lend to this perfect balance between day and night the power to lift the veil between our world and the spirit world.

It is therefore a good time to offer prayers to our deceased loved ones and to the ancestors of the Japanese imperial family. Unlike the Obon, the feast of souls which recalls our October 31st and the ghosts who visit us, during the equinox it is our prayers that lift us towards the spiritual world.

From religious to secular

After World War II, quite a few religious holidays were revisited by the government. It was a question of separating the religious from the State and to establish secular holidays. The commemoration of the imperial family and the deceased gives way to a celebration of autumn and the agricultural harvests of this season.

Buddhists however continue to go to the temple and participate in the various ceremonies that take place that day. They also go to the graves of their ancestors to clean them and make offerings.

Yum, yum, over here the ohagi of shuubun no hi!

Autumn and the equinox, I don’t give a damn about the shellfish like the other one would say… On the other hand, what we eat on this occasion interests me much more! And it is obviously on the side of the wagashi ( 和 菓子(わ が し)), traditional Japanese confectionery, let it be.

The shuubun no hi is the opportunity to taste delicious rice balls with red bean paste (anko, あ ん こ), I named the ohagi. To prepare them nothing more … long. The rice should be cooked for several hours, until it is very sticky. The rice is then rolled into a compact ball, wrapped in a layer of well-sweetened bean paste.

shuubun no hi, ohagi, traditional wagashi

If I like the original, my favorite variation is the ohagi sprinkled with black sesame. It can also be sprinkled with kinako (き な こ, soy powder). Its spring counterpart is botamochi (ぼ た も ち), but make no mistake, the recipe is pretty much … Exactly the same!

Vocabulary

Japanese Romaji French
秋分(し ゅ う ぶ ん)( shuubun no hi Autumn equinox day
お は ぎ ohagi ohagi, a Japanese wagashi
彼岸花(ひ が ん ば な higanbana Japanese amaryllis
和 菓子(わ が し) wagashi traditional japanese pastry
あ ん こ anko red bean paste
き な こ kinako toasted soy powder
ぼ た も ち botamochi botamochi, a Japanese wagashi

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