A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

The Japanese Custom of O-Higan- Remembering Ancestors Are On and Around The Equinox Days (O-Higan)- Revisited

The Japanese never go very long without taking care of their ancestors or departed loved ones. In fact, there are many who pray and make offerings at their family altar (butsudan) every single day. In addition, as part of the annual cycle of events, there are four times a year (besides individual memorial days) for special ceremonies in which extra efforts are made for family members who have passed on: New Years, O-Bon (in August) and then the week around (three days before and three days after) the equinox days. In fact, there are national holidays in March and September making it possible for anyone who wishes to do so to visit their family graves for O-Higan (for a more comprehensive explaination of  O-higan  see my article).

Walking around Tsukuba today, I saw many signs of this autumn`s higan-iri (彼岸入), the first day of O-Higan. First, the graves in all the old neighborhood cemeteries have been swept and decorated with offerings of seasonal flowers.

Rare mound type graves for full burial (before cremation was mandatory) 

Rare mound type graves for full burial (from the time before cremation was mandatory)


In and around these graveyards, and in many other places as well (the gardens of old houses, parks, or even along the road), are the amazing higanbana. These flowers are so named for the very fact that they appear, each year, during the higan season. 

Higanbana along Tsuchiura-Gakuen Road Higanbana along Tsuchiura-Gakuen Road 


At convenience stores, department stores and traditional sweet shops, O-Hagi are on sale. These are oval shaped mochi-rice cakes, covered with a layer of sweet beans, soy bean powder, or black sesame. You can buy them individually, or in sets. The name of these traditional cakes during the autumn o-higan is o-hagi because hagi are a typical flower of this season, while the same sweet cake in spring is called botan-mochi, after the peony, a typical spring flower. 

O-Hagi at Seibu O-Hagi at Seibu 


You will notice that many Japanese, when talking about the weather will use the expression- atsusa samusa mo higan made (hot and cold until O-higan), which I guess means that the equinox days (spring and autumn) are seasonal and climatic turning-points. With the crazy weather we’ve been having who knows when it will get cooler. One thing is for sure, though, the nights will start getting longer and longer, until next spring’s equinox. 

Higan-Bana at Tsukuba`s Botanical Garden 2009 Higan-Bana at Tsukuba`s Botanical Garden 2009 

One Comment

  • Norie Kajiwara says:

    アヴィさん、こんばんは! (´∇`)

    私は来月の末につくばに引越しをするので、ある程度の年月をつくばで過ごした外国人の本音を聞いてみたいと思って出かけました。なぜならば日本人には気づかない点があるからです。私の気持ちは、つくばの ”いただけない部分” がもう少し聞くことができればよかったかなと思いました。アヴィさんが少し遠慮されていたかしらと感じましたがいかがでしたでしょうか。

    Thank you again!
    Bye for now