It was Vernal Equinox Day on Wednesday this week.

Vernal Equinox Day (春分の日 Shunbun no Hi?) is a public holiday in Japan that occurs on the date of the Northward equinox in Japan Standard Time (the vernal equinox can occur on different dates in different timezones), usually March 20 or 21. The date of the holiday is not officially declared until February of the previous year, due to the need for recent astronomical measurements.

Vernal Equinox Day became a public holiday in 1948. Prior to that it was the date of Shunki kōreisai ( 春季皇霊祭?), an event relating to Shintoism. Like other Japanese holidays, this holiday was repackaged as a non-religious holiday for the sake of separation of religion and state in Japan’s postwar constitution.

Even though it is a non-religious holiday, many people visit their ancestor’s graves. I walked past a cemetery near our apartment that I wanted to visit .. and clicked off a few photos using my Canon 5D Mark III and my go-to lens: Canon 28-70mm f/2.8.

Pink peeking out behind the red.

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The bell at the cemetery. People would walk up randomly and hit the bell, followed by a bow of respect.

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A mix of very old, and very new graves.

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Of course, people leave behind flowers.

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The grave stones are all grey and covered in moss. Intermingled with shots of color from the fresh flowers.

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A beautiful place.



We took the Haunted Tokyo Tour on the last day of the New Year week with one of the stops being a cemetery that houses one of Japan’s most famous painters Hokusai Katusika. I picked one of his most famous pieces The Great Wave off Kanagawa for my New Years cards this year.


The cemetery was filled with stories (thanks to a great guide). Many had paid tribute to their ancestors with sake …

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and incense …

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and flowers.


These flowers caught my eye, a stark contrast to the headstones they adorned.


One more angle.


A solemn place brought alive with color.



It is odd to see a map (i.e. Google maps) with swastika’s all over them – very common in Japan. A quick web search will tell you that it represents a temple:

The earliest archaeological evidence of swastika-shaped ornaments dates back to the Indus Valley Civilization of Ancient India as well as Classical Antiquity. Swastikas have also been used in various other ancient civilizations around the world. It remains widely used in Indian religions, specifically in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, primarily as a tantric symbol to evoke shakti or the sacred symbol of auspiciousness. The word “swastika” comes from the Sanskrit svastika – “su” meaning “good,” “asti” meaning “to be,” and “ka” as a suffix. The swastika literally means “to be good”.

In East Asia, the swastika is a Chinese character, defined by Kangxi Dictionary, published in 1716, as “synonym of myriad, used mostly in Buddhist classic texts“,[1] by extension, the word later evolved to represent eternity and Buddhism.

For most of us, it means something very different. I came across one the other day on a beautiful temple.

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Beside many temples are cemeteries with beautiful stonework.

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I did some reading on Japanese graves as I was curious about the wooden items around the graves.

Often, the name is also written on a sotoba, a separate wooden board on a stand behind or next to the grave. These sotoba may be erected shortly after death, and new ones may be added at certain memorial services.

The vast majority of burials are cremation and the plots are multi-generational family plots. When we were in England I found the grave sites fascinating, they tell a story. They warrant exploration as we settle in and go wandering.

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