The day when autumn begins

“Shubun-no-hi” (Autumnal Equinox Day) is a national holiday in Japan that usually occurs on September 22 or 23. A week in between Shubun-no-hi is called “Higan”. We traditionally visit ancestor’s graves during higan. In Buddhist terms, higan means “the other side of the river crossed by the dead”, which means that, while this side is the world of the living, the other side is world of the dead. It is believed that the spirits of dead can come back this side at this time. Therefore, during higan, we visit graves to comfort the spirits of the ancestors.
On Shubun-no-hi, like on the “Shunbun-no-hi (Vernal Equinox Day), the length of day and night is the same. In short, the autumn begins from that day. This period is a boundary marking the end of the summer heat and the coming of autumn.

Asuka, Nara Prefecture

Asuka Inabuchi, Nara Prefecture/Photo: J Matsumoto

Red spider lilies and rice fields

Just then, very red flowers come out along footpath between rice fields. Nonprofessional cameramen turn out to the countryside mainly to take pictures of red spider lilies and rice fields close to harvest time, while also enjoying a hike.
This is a picture of rice field in Asuka, Nara Prefecture.
Red spider lily is called “higan-bana” (or “manjusyage”) since it is in bloom during higan. Japanese feel the end of the summer when seeing higan-bana.

Higan-bana /Photo: J. Matsumoto

Higan-bana /Photo: J. Matsumoto

Asuka, Nara Prefecture

Asuka /Photo: J Matsumoto

Asuka, Nara Prefecture

Asuka, Nara Prefecture/Photo: J Matsumoto

秋が始まる日

秋分の日は国民の祝日で、9月23日ころに設けられます。秋分の日前後の1週間は秋の彼岸といって、墓参りをする時期です。彼岸とは、仏教用語で、「死者が渡る川の向こう側」を意味するもので、こちらが生きた者の世界であるのに対し、彼岸、つまり向こう側は死者の世界を指します。ご先祖の霊はこの時期にこちら側に戻ってくるとされ、お墓参りをして先祖の霊を慰めるのです。
この秋分の日は、春分の日と同様、昼と夜の長さが等しくなる日。つまり、この日から秋が始まり、夏の暑さも終わりを告げ、秋がどんどん深まっていくのです。

ちょうどそのころ、田んぼのあぜ道などに真っ赤な花が咲き、アマチュア・カメラマンたちがハイキングを兼ねて田舎へと繰り出します。彼らのお目当ては、彼岸花と収穫間近の田んぼの風景写真です。
写真は奈良県明日香村の棚田です。
彼岸花は、お彼岸の時季に咲くのでそう呼ばれています。 日本人は彼岸花を見ると、夏も終わりだと感じるのです。

Ohagi

Ohagi is a traditional Japanese pastry, which is made of rice dumpling and bean paste (anko). It is a typical offering for the spirits of the ancestors during higan. It is made by lightly squashing steamed rice and molding this into balls, which are covered with sweet red bean jam.
Actually, traditional Japanese pastry is not so delicious and popular. However, I believe that ohagi or other pastries with bean jam will never disappear in Japan forever. They are just delicious and very popular through generations.
While staying in Japan, I guess that you have a chance to eat it once.
In Japanese very famous anime “Doraemon”, a robotic cat named Doramemon always eats his most favorite pastry “Dorayaki”, which is a pancake filled with bean jam. Pastries with bean jam are loved by anyone including the spirits of the ancestors and robotic cat from the future world. It is sold anywhere and all year round.

Ohagi

Ohagi

Ohagi

Ohagi

Dorayaki

Dorayaki

Dorayaki

Dorayaki /red bean jam pastry

おはぎ

お彼岸にご先祖の霊にお供えする代表格が、おはぎと呼ばれるあんこともち米の伝統的なお菓子。お米を軽くつぶして丸めたものに、あんこで包んで作ります。
伝統的なお菓子は、美味しくなかったり、人気がなかったりしますが、おはぎやあんこ菓子は永遠に日本から消えることはないと信じています。単純に美味しいから、世代を超えて人気があるのです。
日本に滞在中、1度は食べる機会があるのではないかしら?
アニメ『ドラえもん』では、ドラえもんの大好物があんこのお菓子どら焼きで、いつも食べていますよね。一年中販売されていて、どこでも買えるあんこ菓子は、生きている人間も、先祖の霊も、未来からやってきたネコ型ロボットも大好きなのです。