All You Need to Know About Vernal Equinox Day in Japan

There are a number of things that ought to be on your priority list when travelling in Japan, from ensuring you stay in hotels with a bath in the room to trying as much exciting new street food as possible. There are also a great number of festivals and traditions native to Japan, so visiting over these periods can do wonders in ensuring you have a bucket-list worthy trip – the best trips are the ones which involve new activities and experiences, the type which you didn’t realise you needed until you do them, realising they should have been a top priority from the get-go. If you are visiting over Vernal Equinox Day, otherwise known as Shunbun no hi, here is everything you need to know about it, from its date this year to what it is and what people do for it, so that you can adjust your priority list accordingly.

When is it?

It takes place this year on Friday, 20 March 2020 – this varies yearly, based on the seasons and the astronomy.

What is it?

Vernal Equinox Day marks the official date when the chilly breezes of the Winter turn to the floral joviality of Spring, and hence the whole of Japan becomes a shrine to nature. With the cherry blossom in bloom, parks and forests are often carpeted with the brightest, most beautiful pink and white blossoms you have ever seen. Essentially, it is what a number of countries refer to as “Spring Day”, and the terminology was selected as it describes the situation where the day is as long as the night.

What to do for it?

This is not just a calendar date, though, or a geographical note to make. In fact, it is taken so seriously in Japan that everyone gets a public holiday out of it. So, of course, celebrations and traditions are in order when everyone has a day off work. Given that it is a specific celebration of a love of nature and all living things, you can expect the majority of events to take place outside, within the tender arms of Japanese nature. A number of shrines will be putting on events – even though it is technically not a religious holiday – so depending on which Japanese city you are visiting, always turn to your closest shrine for activity.

What is the origin?

The origin of Vernal Equinox Day is rooted in a religious Shinto event, which is called Shunki Koreisai. This date was once the day dedicated to celebrating this religious event, right up until after the war. However, with the creation of the post-war constitution in 1948, it became necessary to separate church and state. So, the day evolved from here. Ultimately, it shifted the message from a religious one to one which puts nature on the pedestal. That said, there is no denying that the celebrations which take place have a spiritual feel to them – which is linked to their original purpose.

What traditions take place?

A number of traditions take place on Vernal Equinox Day, one of which involves burial sites and ancestors. A number of families will visit the graves of their ancestors, where they will clean the stone, sweep the surrounding areas, pull any weeds that may have grown, as well as plant flowers to celebrate the life that can come from death and the cycle of nature at its most simple.

What to eat?

There is no one specific food to eat on Vernal Equinox Day, however given that it is the start of Spring, there are plenty of Springtime foods you should aim to sample. Plum blossoms, for instance, would be a great way to mark the beginning of Spring if you didn’t have a calendar to go by – they are one of the earliest tell-tale signs that the winter is over and new life is ready to burst into colour in a celebration of the natural world. This means you will find countless dishes which orientate around plum blossoms, like umeboshi (a tart with pickled plums), umeshu (plum wine), chips flavored with pickled plum, and seasonal chuhai. And that is just the plums! There is also Takenoko, which is a type of bamboo shoot which is one of the only types of bamboo which can be eaten when fully grown. Other types can be poisonous, but these sprout during the Springtime and so can be found scattered around the culinary world from Vernal Equinox Day. Expect plenty of fresh fruit and berries with everything you order!

Which are the most popular shrines to visit?

Depending on which city you are visiting in Japan, so will the shrines differ. Here are some of the most popular shrines in a number of cities across the country: In Tokyo, you will want to visit Meiji-jingu Shrine in Shibuya right by Yoyogi Park. Alternatively, head to Asakusa-jinja Shrine, one of the most famous shrines in Tokyo. If instead you are visiting Kyoto, then a great shrine to visit is Kinkakuji Temple, otherwise known as Golden Pavilion and one of Kyoto’s top tourist attractions – that, or the wonderful, iconic Fushimi Inari Taisha. Find yourself in Hiroshima? Bhuddist temple Senko-ji, inside Senkoji Park, is an excellent, traditional and culturally enriching choice. All the while, visitors to Osaka can bee-line to Hozen-ji Temple, or to Sumiyoshi-taisha which is one of Japan’s oldest shrines. In fact, if you find yourself in Osaka over this time, you will definitely want to visit Osaka Castle, which is surrounded by a moat lined with plum, peach and cherry-blossom trees – the Springtime postcard-perfect scene.

From what Vernal Equinox Day is exactly in terms of both origin and current celebration, to how to enjoy this Japanese public holiday like a local, you should now be armed with the information necessary to ensure you make the most of it when visiting this March. Shunbun no hi should officially be on your radar now, and you should be planning to tick it off your newly adjusted bucket list ASAP with this newfound insider knowledge.


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