Ohigan’s Origins

Mar 13, 2023

Spring Ohigan – March 18-24 

¿What is Ohigan in Japan? 

OHIGAN is a Buddhist custom whose origin dates to Emperor Shōmu in the 8th century. In Japanese, (対岸) “Higan” is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese translation of the Sanskrit term for “the Other Shore”. The cycle of death and rebirth (saṃsāra) is “this shore”, and in Buddhism, crossing to the other shore is used to refer to the attainment of nirvana. 

In Japan “O-higan” is celebrated for seven days: three days before the equinox until three days after. Families pray to their ancestors for good health and success at home and at work. For this reason, Ohigan is a time to reflect and remember our loved ones who have crossed over to the ‘other shore’. 

Most temples in Japan also hold Ohigan ceremonies to express gratitude for having awakened to wisdom and compassion. 

What does the equinox mean spiritually?  

On the day of the equinox, the length of day and night are equal. An equinox occurs twice a year, in March and September, for Japanese culture and in Buddhism symbolizes not only the transition of the seasons, but also the transition between life and death.  

According to Buddhist precepts, these dates provide the best conditions to communicate with our ancestors because on these dates, the Sun rises exactly in the East and sets exactly in the West. For Buddhists: “The Sun rises from the world of the living, the East, and ends in the world of the dead, the West.”.  

This 2022 Spring Ohigan will be celebrated from March 18th to 25th and Autumn Ohigan will be celebrated from September 22nd to 26th.  

What do Japanese people do in Ohigan? 

During Ohigan, Buddhists in Japan visit their family’s “Ohaka” (Mausoleum) to worship on behalf of their ancestors and relatives with flowers.  

It is also an old practice to clean the butsudan by decorating it with beautiful flowers and making offerings of dishes, fruits, and sweets among which the BOTAMOCHI or OHAGI is characterized.

According to Okinawan custom, in front of the butsudan the UCHIKABI is burned, which is a paper that is equivalent to the money of the afterlife and that we offer to our ancestors by burning it and sending it to them for them to use.



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