Both equinox days are associated with the Buddhist Higan practices, held traditionally two times a year in the same period.
[Nishi Otani Cemetery, Kyoto]
Why was Higan celebrated around this time? That was because of the popular belief that when night and day are of equal length the Lord Buddha will appear to help souls make the crossing to the Other Shore.
Higan was already observed in Japan in the 8th c., and further institutionalized by Imperial Order in 806.
In this period, the Japanese usually visit the graves of their ancestors, clean the tombstone, offer incense and flowers. And as the Buddha on this day saves all souls, the visit to the cemetery is considered a joyful event.
From the old ritual of offering food to the ancestors developed the custom of eating botamochi, a ball of soft rice covered with sweetened bean paste.
Shunbun no Hi is also the time that the chill of winter finally fades away. Temperatures gradually rise and the colorful riot of cherry blossoms is near...