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Lesson Transcript

Hello, and welcome to the Culture Class: Holidays in Japan Series on JapanesePod101.com. In this series, we’re exploring the traditions behind Japanese holidays and observances. I’m Becky, and you're listening to Season 1, Lesson 17: Autumnal Equinox.
The Autumnal Equinox, as its name suggests, is the turning point of autumn, or when the calendar states that summer turns into autumn. The Autumnal Equinox occurs around September 23rd each year. It started out as 皇霊祭 (Kōreisai), meaning “a royal court event held in the autumn,” and it became a national holiday to commemorate those who have died and to worship ancestors.
Now, before we go into more detail, do you know the answer to this question: what takes place at 皇霊祭 (Kōreisai)?
If you don’t already know, you’ll find out a bit later. Keep listening.
The days before and after the Autumnal Equinox are known as the Equinoctial Week. During the Equinoctial Week, people visit the graves of their ancestors and offer incense, flowers, and rice; they also hold a memorial service. Since ancient times, people have believed that the deceased go to another world in the direction of the west. The Autumnal Equinox is in the middle of the Equinoctial Week in Japan. It’s also the day, according to astronomical calculations, that the sun rises in the true east and sets in the true west. It's said that the Equinoctial Week started with people remembering their ancestors in the west where the sun sets and expressing feelings of gratitude.
Many people use the Autumnal Equinox to visit gravesites. When visiting a grave, people usually clean the area first. Then they lay down offerings such as flowers and light incense sticks. At this point, each person pours water over the tombstone, and with their hands pressed together, performs a bow.
One of the most common offerings to ancestors is お萩 (ohagi). This is a Japanese sweet in which cooked grains of rice are crushed slightly and then covered with bean paste. Its name comes from 萩 (hagi), meaning "Japanese clover" which blooms around the time of the Equinoctial Week. Some people make their own お萩 (ohagi), whereas others buy it at supermarkets. It’s customary for people to eat お萩 (ohagi) regardless of whether or not they offer them at the grave or family altar.
Here’s our fun fact for the day! Are you familiar with the idiom, "No heat or cold lasts over the Equinox?" It means that the cold of winter and heat of summer last until the Equinoctial Week, when the weather becomes more bearable. Have you noticed that? There is also an Equinoctial Week in the spring. To find out more, please watch the video for the Spring Equinox.
Now it's time to answer our quiz question: what’s done at 皇霊祭 (Kōreisai)?
皇霊祭 (Kōreisai) is a ceremony to honor the spirits of the royal family, such as the emperors and empresses of the past. At first, the memorial service only honored the ancestors of the royal family, but gradually the festival came to be a day to remember all ancestors. This led to the tradition of people using the Autumnal Equinox holiday to visit gravesites.
Well listeners, how was this lesson?
Did you learn something new?
In your country, do you have a day that celebrates the start of autumn?
Please leave us a comment telling us at JapanesePod101.com.
And we’ll see you next time!