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‘Ohigan’, a Time to Reflect on Ancestors

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2021.09.23 (Thu)

By Charlotte, long-term Tokyo resident & history-loving traveler

In Japan, there is an event called ‘ohigan.’ It is held twice a year, in spring and in autumn, and the period of the autumn ‘ohigan’ in 2021 is from Monday, September 20 to Sunday, September 26. The middle day of the ‘ohigan’ in the autumn falls on a national holiday called the Autumnal Equinox Day of each year, and this year's Autumnal Equinox Day is today, September 23.

The autumnal ‘ohigan’ is a period to honor ancestors and remember those who have passed away. For this reason, many people visit the graves of their ancestors with their families and clean their graves. During the ‘ohigan’ in the autumn, there is a practice of offering ‘ohagi’, which is a sweet that is made by steaming rice so that it still retains its shape, forming it into a ball, and packing red bean paste around it, to the deceased by placing it next to their grave. Apparently, people have continued to offer ‘ohagi’ to their ancestors as food that drives away negativity because the color of the red beans used for ‘ohagi’ has been believed to ward off evil spirits since ancient times.

Today is the middle day of the ‘ohigan,’ and I would like to introduce the Yanaka Cemetery in Taito City. The Yanaka Cemetery covers an area of about 10 hectares, which is about the size of 19 football fields. Many famous figures have been laid to rest in Yanaka Cemetery, including the last "shōgun" of Japan, Yoshinobu Tokugawa. The north side of the cemetery is on a hill, where you can see TOKYO SKYTREE, the tallest building in Japan.

How about visiting Yanaka Cemetery this fine sunny autumn season, remembering the people who made history in Japan (of course, it is a place where people's souls are laid to rest, so please take a quiet walk!).

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