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Vernal Equinox Day Special

Yanaka Cemetery and Teramachi Sanpo


What is the "Vernal Equinox Day"?

Vernal Equinox Day, a national holiday, falls on March 20 every year. As the saying goes, Cold and heat last until the Ohigan, after this day, the days gradually get longer and the cold eases off. On the day of the vernal equinox, the length of the day and night are almost the same, the sun rises in the true east and sets in the true west.
In Japan, it has been believed since ancient times that the Buddhist Paradise is located in the western direction. Therefore, the day of the Vernal Equinox is the most important day of the year, vernal Equinox is considered to be the closest day in the year to the Paradise, and people began to hold Buddhist rituals on this day.

Mother Farm in Chiba Prefecture. The best time to view the flowers is around the vernal equinox. The date of the vernal equinox in 2023 is March 21. The Ohigan is from March 18 to March 24.
Mother Farm in Chiba Prefecture. The best time to view the flowers is around the vernal equinox. The date of the vernal equinox in 2023 is March 21. The Ohigan is from March 18 to March 24.

Visiting graves and many stories!

Many people may think of visiting graves during the Ohigan period.
But thinking about it again, I feel that no other custom is as private and veiled as visiting graves. For example, how often do you visit graves and with whom? And what do you bring with you?

Buckets and ladles. Some have family names and crests on them.
Buckets and ladles. Some have family names and crests on them.

'On the Ohigan, the whole family goes out together!
'You will definitely bring incense and candles!
My grandmother will bring cleaning supplies without fail! Everyone has their own customs. The author is from a rural area in Oita. On the Ohigan, all the relatives used to visit the graves, and every year, whenever I went there, as if we were showing each other,
I always ran into my homeroom teacher from junior high school.
Perhaps they had the same behavior pattern.
When I asked my friends and colleagues about their episodes of visiting graves, they told me that their visits to the graves were very sad and joyous.
There was a time when the door to the cemetery was unlocked and there was no key! When all the relatives were fussing over it, the child was clutching it ・・・・・・"
My father-in-law is a law-abiding man, and he decided to go on the middle of the day, so there was always a traffic jam on the way home. ・・・・・・
It is very interesting to hear about people's experiences of visiting graves, because you can learn about their way of thinking and family traditions.
However, we cannot say "interesting" to those who are in the middle of a whirlwind.
My mother-in-law, who passed away, loved flowers, so you brought her gorgeous flowers. Then my sister-in-law got mad at me for being too flashy! It seems that visiting a gravesite can cause a commotion. There are those who say, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do," and there are those who say, "I want to visit the graves as my heart dictates. The more the person in question takes action with the best of intentions, the deeper the trouble will become,
The more what you think is right, the deeper your worries will become.
However, in such cases, let's go back to the starting point. Why do we visit graves in the first place? It is to remember the deceased.
Our ancestors should always be by our side, watching over us. ・・・・・・ We should refrain from trouble in front of the graves as much as possible.

What is Yanaka Cemetery?

I will leave it to your insight on the manners and etiquette of visiting graves,
From here on, I would like to introduce "Yanaka Cemetery," where my husband's ancestors are buried. Some of you may think that it is useless to ask about a cemetery with which we have no connection.
However, Yanaka Cemetery is one of the largest cemeteries in Tokyo, and some of the most famous people in history have been laid to rest there. Let's start with an overview.

Yanaka Cemetery Information Map
Yanaka Cemetery Information Map

Yanaka Cemetery is a large cemetery located in Taito Ward, Tokyo, adjacent to the Yanaka temple town. There are as many as 7,000 graves in the park.
It is only a six-minute walk from the nearest station, Nippori Station.
In the Edo period (1603-1867), the cemetery was the precincts of Tennoji Temple, but after the Meiji Restoration, it was confiscated and is now managed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government as a metropolitan cemetery. The park road stretching from north to south in the center of Yanaka Cemetery is called "Sakura-dori (cherry blossom street)" and is a popular spot for cherry blossom viewing in spring.

◆Tennoji Five-Story Pagoda Ruins

Ruins of the five-storied pagoda of Tennoji Temple
Ruins of the five-storied pagoda of Tennoji Temple

The five-storied pagoda in Yanaka is known as the model for Rohan Koda's The Five-Storied Pagoda. However, it was destroyed by arson in July 1957, and only the foundation stone can be seen today.
The notice only mentions "arson," and since we did not know the details of the fire, we investigated and found that the fire was set by a man and woman who had an affair and tried to force themselves to have a heart-to-heart. Were they so desperate that they had to burn the five-storied pagoda? It is a shameful feeling to know the truth.

◆Cemetery of Prince Yoshinobu Tokugawa

Cemetery of Prince Yoshinobu Tokugawa
Cemetery of Prince Yoshinobu Tokugawa

The grave of the last shogun of the Edo Shogunate, Yoshinobu Tokugawa, is located in the Kan'eiji Cemetery in Yanaka Cemetery.
When viewed from a short distance away, the area is lush and green like a forest.
When you approach the tomb, you will see that it is heavily surrounded and you cannot enter, however, through the wire netting, you can see a thatched stone tomb.
You may wonder why the tombs are round. In gratitude for the fact that Yoshinobu Tokugawa was made a duke, the highest rank in the noble family, by Emperor Meiji,
He left a will that the ceremony should be conducted in a Shinto ceremony instead of the Buddhist ceremony of the Tokugawa family.

Let's go out for "Teramachi Sanpo" after visiting graves!

◆Tennoji Temple

Tennoji Temple is said to have been founded in the Kamakura period (1185-1333) and is one of the oldest temples in Tokyo. Entering the temple grounds through the gate, you will be greeted by the elegant main hall in front of the temple. In front of the main hall is a plum tree, which blooms beautifully in February.

Tennoji Temple
Tennoji Temple

◆Hongyoji Temple

This is the first temple that catches your eye as you exit the west exit of Nippori Station and start climbing up Gotenzaka. It was built by Ota Toshitaka, grandson of Ota Dokan, at Hirakawaguchi in Edo Castle.
During the Edo period, the temple moved to its current location via Kanda and Yanaka. It was also called "Tsukimi-dera" (moon-viewing temple) because of its scenic location,
The temple is known for attracting writers and artists. There are monuments to haiku by Kobayashi Issa and Taneda Yamatohka in the temple grounds.

  • Gotenzaka
  • Hongyo-ji Temple
    Hongyo-ji Temple

◆Kyoo-ji Temple

Kyoo-ji Temple is located on the way to Yanaka Ginza shopping street after leaving Hongyo-ji Temple. It is a Nichiren Shu temple. In the Daikokudo Hall next to the main hall, Daikokuten, a deity said to have been created by Nichiren Shonin, is enshrined.
In Keio 4, the temple was attacked by the new government forces for hiding defeated Shogitai fighters during the Ueno War, and bullet holes remain on the temple gate.

  • Kyooji Temple Gate
    Kyooji Temple Gate
  • The main hall of Kyooji Temple
    The main hall of Kyooji Temple

Let's go to Yanaka on the day of Vernal Equinox!

How was your visit to Yanaka Cemetery and Teramachi Sanpo?
Nippori, the nearest station to Yanaka Cemetery, is said to have been named after the character "Nippori," meaning "a village that never gets tired of the sunset.
In addition to the west side area featured in this article, the textile district extends to the east side area, and it is truly an interesting town where you can spend all day and never get tired of it. On the day of the spring equinox, visit the tombs. After finishing visiting temples, we wander around the city.
You may discover something new if you walk around the town while appreciating the arrival of spring. However, there are many hills, so please wear shoes that you are accustomed to walking in!