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Lesson Transcript

Hello, and welcome to the Culture Class- Holidays in Japan Series at 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 8- the "Vernal Equinox."
The Spring or Vernal Equinox is a public holiday held each year around March 20th. It was established as a public holiday with the intention of honoring nature and showing compassion to living things. In Japan, the weather becomes warmer towards the end of March, and this day feels like the coming of spring. With the easing of the severe cold, the blossoming of flowers and trees, and animals waking up from hibernation, the period just before and after Spring Equinox Day is a time for thinking about the workings of nature.
Now, before we go into greater detail, do you know the answer to this question- when is the date for the Spring Equinox formally determined?
If you don’t already know, you’ll find out a bit later. Keep listening.
The Spring Equinox is one of the twenty-four divisions of the solar year. The year is equally divided into twenty-four parts in accordance with the path of the sun, with each part having a name appropriate to its season. One month in the lunar calendar is twenty-nine or thirty days, and there are a total of 354 days in a lunar year. There are shifts between the actual month and season. Therefore, Japan decided that it should also implement the twenty-four divisions that match the movement of the sun. The most famous divisions are the Spring Equinox, Summer Solstice, Autumnal Equinox, and Winter Solstice. The Equinoctial Week is the period of days that falls around the Spring Equinox and the Autumnal Equinox, with three days coming before the Equinox and after it.
Many people visit grave sites during the Spring Equinox and Autumnal Equinox. The Spring Equinox has been marked since ancient times to celebrate the coming of spring, and in the past, it was also a day to give thanks to one's ancestors. This custom continued for years in rural areas and then spread throughout the country when the royal court in the Meiji period made it a day for honoring ancestors.
ぼた餅 (Botamochi) or "rice dumpling covered with bean paste" is a symbol of the Spring Equinox. It is given as an offering at the family altar and grave, and eaten after ancestor memorial services. Just like the おはぎ (ohagi) eaten for the Autumnal Equinox, these are Japanese sweets made from rice and filled with sweet bean paste. Technically, the difference between these sweets is that botamochi are filled with strained bean paste, and おはぎ (ohagi) are filled with sweet bean jam. The name ぼた餅 (botamochi) is derived from the spring flower peony. おはぎ (ohagi) are named after an autumnal flower and bush clovers.
Here’s our fun fact for the day! Did you know that on the Spring Equinox, the sun rises exactly in the east, and sets exactly in the west? Television and radio stations announce that it is the day when the length of day and night is the same. It is after this day that daylight hours start to become longer.
Now it's time to answer our quiz question- when is the date determined?
The correct answer is February 1st of the previous year. The date for the Spring Equinox is determined and announced by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, based on the calendar and ephemeris, or positions of astronomical objects such as stars. The general public, though, often finds out the date of the Spring Equinox by looking at calendars and diaries that become available in the fall of the preceding year.
Well listeners, how was this lesson?
Did you learn something new?
In your country, is there a holiday to honor nature?
Please leave us a comment telling us at JapanesePod101.com.
And we’ll see you next time!