Okinawa War Memorial Day: 慰霊の日

慰霊の日 irei-no-hi: Okinawa War Memorial Day.

Irei-no-hi is on June 23rd. This is a prefectural holiday here in Okinawa, so schools and government offices close. It is a day to remember and pray for those Okinawans whose lives were sacrificed during the Battle of Okinawa and WWII, especially since the majority of them were civilians, not soldiers, and so much of the island was destroyed by the ravages of battle.

Many museums and art galleries have special displays, usually photography, during this time. The Peace Park in Itoman has a special remembrance ceremony, light-up, and lantern floating with messages of peace on this day. The news programs all dedicate a lot of time to memorials this day.

If you want to visit the Itoman Peace Memorial Park during this time, you will need to take a shuttle, as parking is limited. It is a more somber event, but worthwhile nonetheless.

Autumn Equinox: 秋分

Shuubun 秋分 is the Autumn Equinox (likewise shunbun 春分 is Spring Equinox) and is a Public Holiday in Japan.

秋のお彼岸 aki-no-ohigan means the week of Autumn Equinox; only the actual day of Shuubun is a holiday, but some older traditions celebrate during the entire week (3 days before plus 3 days after). It is a time for “harvest festivals.” While in the rest of Japan it may be more typical to visit graves, in Okinawa it is usually just observed at home at the butsudan (buddhist altar) and the hinukan, but it is possible that you may still see a number of people out visiting and cleaning graves during this time.

Fuchagi, a type of Okinawa mochi, is a popular food and altar offering during this time.

Here in Okinawa, the weather may start to cool a bit, but for the most part the weather here is still fairly warm, compared with mainland Japan.

The SanA grocery store has been advertising for pre-orders of party platters for Shuubun 秋分の日 (秋彼岸 akihigan, or 秋のお彼岸 aki no ohigan, Autumn equinox week). There are various foods served during this time, pretty similar to what you see in other traditional Okinawa gatherings (pork, kamaboko, etc).

In mainland Japan, a traditional food is ohagi おはぎ, a glutinous rice ball covered in sweet red bean paste; some also have goma ごま (sesame seeds) or kinako きな粉 (toasted soy flour) coating them. They are meant to represent an bush clover (called “hagi” in Japanese, a symbol of Autumn) and are used as offerings to the ancestors (yes, another time of year to pay respects to ancestors, deceased family members).

Ohigan literally means “the other shore,” meaning the other side of the river which divides the living from the deceased in the afterlife according to Buddhist tradition.




Respect for the Aged Day: 敬老の日

敬老の日 Keirou-no-hi means Respect for the Aged Day in Japan. It is another public holiday. It is held the third Monday of September every year.

Usually people will buy presents for the aging parents or grandparents, and department stores and grocery stores will have up special sections for popular gifts for the elderly. Some families may take the elders out to a special lunch or dinner. On the local news, many older people will be featured.

Overall, it is not a particularly important or historical holiday, but just a small way to show respect for the elderly and remember the efforts they put into raising us.