Hello. It’s Yuko!
It’s September from today! In late September, there is a period called “Ohigan(おひがん)” in Japan.
In modern times, the custom of holding events on Ohigan has become very small, however, it’s still very important for us.
Today, I would like to introduce what Japanese people do on Ohigan.
What is Ohigan?
The ohigan is twice a year, in spring and autumn. The period is 3 days before and after “Vernal Equinox Day” and “Autumn Equinox Day”, for a total of 7 days.
The autumnal equinox day of 2021 will be September 23rd. Therefore, the ohigan in the fall of 2021 will be from September 20th to September 26th.
Meaning of ohigan
Originally, “Ohigan” refers to the world of enlightenment in Buddhism.
In the old days, it was believed that if you practiced, you could go to the “Ohigan” from the world of desires and hesitation. Therefore, it was thought that it would be possible to go to Gokuraku Jodo(Heaven) by offering a memorial service for ancestors and Buddhas during the ohigan week.
From that point, in modern times, the meaning of “a period of memorial service for ancestors” has become stronger.
In addition, the 1947 Japanese Holiday Law states that the autumnal equinox day, which is the middle day of the equinox, is a holiday that “respects ancestors and bears the dead.”
Therefore, in the autumn equinoctial week, events to honor ancestors are held at each family.
What does Japanese do on the ohigan?
In the period of the ohigan week, what does Japanese specifically do to honor the ancestors and endure the person who died?
Cleaning of Buddhist altars
There is a Buddhist altar in the traditional Japanese house. The Buddhist altar is a miniature version of the temple.
The Buddhist altar is dedicated to the Buddhas of the religious denominations and can be visited at any time.
Also, on the Buddhist altar, there is an ancestral mortuary tablet (a wooden tile with the name of the ancestor, the name after his death.
Therefore, cleaning Buddhist altars is equal to honoring ancestors and Buddha.
Visiting to a grave
The tomb contains the remains of ancestors. We visit the grave and greet our ancestors regularly.
When visiting a grave, you don’t just go to the grave and put your hands together, but also remove weeds around the grave and sprinkle water on the gravestone to clean it.
Also, use a toothbrush to thoroughly clean small grooves. After cleaning everything, decorate the flowers, offer the favorite foods of the ancestors and the deceased, give incense sticks, and then put your hands together.
In Japan, the graves tend to get bigger as you go south. The grave of my ancestor was in Kagoshima prefecture, and the size of the grave was 1.5m square and the height was more than 2m.
In Kagoshima, there is an active volcano called Sakurajima, and volcanic ash falls frequently.
Therefore, it took me half a day to clean the grave by myself…
Ohagi is a representative of the food offered to the grave. Ohagi is a food made by wrapping rice cakes in half and wrapping them in red bean paste.
This food is also made on the ohigan in spring, but its shape and name change.
The ones made in autumn are called “Ohagi” because the Hagi flowers bloom in autumn. Azuki beans, which are the raw material for red bean paste, are harvested in the fall. The skin of freshly harvested azuki beans is still soft, so we use “grain bean paste” for the bean paste.
Also, what is made on the ohigan in spring is called “Botamochi” because peony flowers bloom in spring.
In the spring, the skin becomes hard because it has been a long time since the red beans were harvested. Therefore, we use “Koshian”, which is made by straining the skin.
If you look at the pictures, you can see that the left is “Ohagi” which is eaten in autumn and the right is “Botamochi” which is eaten in spring.
The reason why modern Japanese people stopped doing Ohigan events
In this way, the ohigan week has always been a very important event for Japanese people. But nowadays, the number of Japanese people who hold events on the ohigan week is decreasing.
The reason is as follows.
Many houses do not have a Buddhist altar
Most Japanese houses do not have a Buddhist altar at home. The tendency is more pronounced in urban areas. (Some rural houses still have Buddhist altars)
No one takes care of the grave
Due to the declining birthrate and the fact that children move to the city due to employment, the number of people who take care of graves has decreased.
If you can’t take care of your grave on a daily basis (cleaning, placing offerings, etc.), your grave will quickly become ruined.
Even today’s Japanese, whose faith in Buddhism and daily memorial services for their ancestors have diminished, are uncomfortable with the fact that the grave remains rough.
Therefore, in modern times, there are many permanent memorial tombs managed by temples.
For this reason, there are no Buddhist altars or graves dedicated to ancestors in the immediate vicinity, so events on the ohigan week are disappearing.
Respect for the ancestors
When the events on the ohigan week were common, it was also a place for relatives to get together and check the latest situation.
But now, in addition to the above reasons, we don’t have many events because “I can’t take a day off from work” or “the grave is too far away” etc.
It’s sad that there are fewer events, but I think it’s important to remember to respect your ancestors and to offer and respect them in your heart.