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 the world 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!
In this blog, 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 Vernal Equinox Day for?
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 it is the southern hemisphere’s Autumnal Equinox. The Autumn Equinox in Japan takes place in either the 22nd or 23rd September, and one of our previous blogs looks at the beautiful autumn scenery across the country.
How is Vernal Equinox Day Celebrated?
In Japan, Vernal Equinox Day is a public holiday – most people will have the day off work. The date can fluctuate depending on time zones and general margin of error, 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 2018 Vernal Equinox Day takes place on the 21st, as will the 2019 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.
Although it is now officially a secular holiday, many of the original Shinto traditions still play a big part in how Vernal Equinox 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.