Red spider lilies

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.

The grave

The “Equinox flower” is essential to Ohigan.

Ohigan happens twice a year: 7 days for Vernal equinox and 7 days for Autumn equinox, with 3 days before and after during each equinox. Originally, people thought the period of bliss before and after the equinoxes was the closest to the afterlife.  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. 

When hearing the word of “Ohigan”, Japanese people immediately think of the mysterious red spider lilies, called ‘higanbana’ (the flower of higan) in Japanese. The flowering time of this flower is short, but it coincidentally blooms during the Ohigan period. The flowers are also called the “Dead flowers” or “Ghost flowers”, because they bloom a lot around the graveyards in Japan during Ohigan. They are reminders of death and the afterlife. By the way, it has poison in its roots, so please do not bring one home!

Red spider lilies

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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!