Red spider lilies

The grave

Ohigan is a unique custom that developed from Buddhism, yet exists only in Japan.

Have you ever heard of the word “Ohigan?” The word is derived from Sanskrit and means “reaching nirvana ,” written as “到彼岸” in Chinese characters for short. It originally meant achieving the perfect state of enlightenment by leaving the worldly world, but the word turned into a custom of, making a visit to graves to hold a memorial service for ancestors that have passed away. Even though it is derived from Buddhism, the custom of making a visit to a grave is only seen in Japan. It is said that the idea was born from the mix of Buddhism and Japanese Shintoism, which pays respect to nature and ancestors.

Red spider lilies

The “Equinox flower” is essential to Ohigan.

When hearing the word of “Ohigan”, the mysterious red spider lilies come to the thoughts of Japanese people. The flowering time of this flower is short, but it coincidentally blooms during the Ohigan period which is thought to be the closest to the afterlife. It is also called “Dead flower” or “Ghost flower”. Because it blooms a lot around the graveyards in Japan during Ohigan, it reminds us of death and afterlife whenever we see this flower. By the way, it has poison in its roots, so please do not bring one home.

The sunset when entering Ohigan

The schedule of Ohigan in 2015.

As I have mentioned above, Ohigan has a time period. We have Ohigan twice a year. It lasts 7 days centering around the day of Vernal equinox and the day of Autumn equinox,with 3 days before and after during each time. On this day, the world was thought to be connected to the land of perfect bliss since the sun sets in the west, resulting in the equinox. The customary visit to graves started from this reason, because people thought this day is the closest to the afterlife. This year, September 20th is “entering Ohigan”, September 23rd is the Vernal equinox day, and September 26th is “finishing Ohigan”. If you are visiting Japan during this week, please pay attention to the areas around roadways, as you might be able to see the equinox flowers blooming. It might be an unforgettable spiritual experience if you think about your afterlife with the mysterious equinox flower blooming.

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Writer / Translator

I’m a freelance translator from Tokyo who likes to travel right in the middle of the unpredictables in life. Through the translation of articles I hope to create points of contact between Japan and the rest of the world. As a writer, I want to add information that isn’t in the guide book, from a “wasabi” perspective!