Spring is just around the corner, and Vernal Equinox Day (Shunbun no hi) marks a special point in the move between seasons. In Japan, it’s a public holiday, and a time for traditions and an appreciation of Japan at large. It’s difficult not to feel a love for the world when gorgeous cherry blossoms begin to bloom as the season tips into spring!
Did you know that cherry blossoms not only symbolise the start of spring, but also hold great cultural and historical significance for Japan? For more information, we dive deeper into the cherry blossom’s meaning and background in a recent blog post.
In this blog post, we’ll find out why Vernal Equinox Day in Japan is such an important day, what the traditions and customs surrounding the day are, and how the significance of the day came into being.
What is the Vernal Equinox Day in Japan?
The day is a celebration of the March Equinox, which marks the beginning of spring astrologically. What does this mean, then? Well, Vernal Equinox Day is the name given to the day where daytime and night-time are the same length. This comes about from the sun rising exactly in the east and setting exactly in the west.
This is only the case when in the northern hemisphere, where Japan is. In the southern hemisphere, the rising and setting of the sun is inverted, and rather than the Vernal (or Spring) Equinox Day, it is the southern hemisphere’s Autumnal Equinox Day. The Autumn Equinox in Japan takes place in either the 22nd or 23rd September, and one of our previous blog posts looks at the beautiful autumn scenery in Japan.
How does Japan celebrate Vernal Equinox Day?
In Japan, Vernal Equinox Day is a public holiday so, most people will have the day off work. The date can fluctuate depending on time zones, but generally it takes place on the 20th or 21st March in Japan. Because of this, the specific date of the public holiday is announced as late as February of the previous year because of the need for precise astrological measurement. The 2022 Vernal Equinox Day takes place on the 21st March, as will the 2023 celebrations.
Before its current incarnation, the date was actually used for a Shinto event called Shunki koreisai. This was a religious day, but it was changed following Japan’s 1948 post-war constitution which separated church and state. Vernal Equinox Day is the non-religious holiday that came out of this change, and it specifically celebrates a love of nature and all living things.
To immerse yourself in the Japan Vernal Equinox Day celebrations and experience Japanese nature at the beginning of the new season, is just one of the many reasons to visit Japan in spring.
Although Vernal Equinox Day is now officially a secular holiday, many of the original Shinto traditions still play a big part in how the day is celebrated. In the past, the original Shinto holiday was used to venerate and honour past Emperors of Japan. In the present day, Vernal Equinox Day sees families travel to reunite and spend time with each other when they perhaps couldn’t at another time.
Alongside this, many families visit burial sites of their ancestors, with some families seeing it as customary to clean gravestones, sweep away debris and replant flowers as a way of honouring them. In this way, Vernal Equinox Day echoes past traditions in the modern age.
Celebrate shunbun no hi from wherever you are in the world with authentic Japanese gifts, direct from Japan, such as many spring inspired kimonos and Japanese accessories. Also, if you’re interested to discover more about Japanese culture, please visit our blog.