On March 20 or 21 (depending on whether it is a leap year or not, in 2011 — March 21), Shunbun no hi is celebrated in Japan — the Day of the Spring Equinox. The seven-day period, including 3 days before and 3 days after, is called the spring equinox week, Haru no Higan (spring higan). The day of the vernal equinox itself is also called Higan no chunichi (the middle day of the week Higan).
In Buddhism, “higan” means the other bank of the Sanzu River, which separates this life and the life after death.
“This river is full of deceit, passion and grief, and only by crossing to the other side can one achieve enlightenment and enter nirvana. They say that when night and day are equal, the Buddha comes to earth to save lost souls and help them cross the river.”
Therefore, higan is a time when the dead are remembered. Following the Buddhist tradition, these days people try to return to their native places to visit the graves of their ancestors. And to help their deceased loved ones cross this river, relatives put order on the graves, light incense, lay flowers and pray. Traditionally, ohagi or botamochi (rice balls with red bean paste) left on the grave give the deceased strength in their journey across the river.
In general, ohagi or botamochi is a traditional seasonal dish that is eaten during the spring and autumn weeks of the equinox. “Hagi” in the word ohagi translates as Japanese clover, a flower that blooms in autumn, and “botan” in the word botamochi is a peony that blooms, as you know, in spring. During the days of higan, special attention is paid to food. Ritual dishes are prepared only vegetarian, as a reminder of the Buddhist prohibition to kill the living and eat the dead. Be sure to eat festive ” inari-sushi — – boiled rice with carrots, mushrooms and beans and gomokuzuki-rice with vegetables and seasonings .
However, the Day of the Spring Equinox is not only a Buddhist, but also an agricultural holiday, and higan also marks the change of seasons. These days, they pray for a rich and abundant harvest.