Shūbun no Hi! An autumn equinox in Japan

The Autumn equinox coincides with my last day with the Royal Opera on tour in Japan. We will have just performed the thrilling opening sequence of Verdi’s Otello in Tokyo at the moment of equinox – UK readers will be having breakfast (08.50 BST). Whatever, wherever, whenever… Happy Equinox!

Shūbun no Hi 秋分の日 is a public holiday in Japan – as is the vernal equinox – and there is much from 18 days here that I could have used equinoctially, but choose this quite humble picture of a Tsukimi display, taken yesterday in Nara, briefly the first capital of Japan in the 8th century. Tsukimi means ‘moon viewing’, originating from that time, and celebrates the September harvest moon by displaying decorations made from Japanese pampas grass (susuki) and eating rice dumplings – dango – to celebrate the beauty of the moon. It remains a very popular tradition.

Nara’s main touristic draw are the ancient Buddhist temples in parkland roamed by sacred shika deer. I had been nearly templed out in our one short break of two days, having spent most of the time visiting the gorgeous temples of Kyoto beforehand. Nara’s big draw though is BIG. Todai-ji temple is still one of the biggest wooden structures on Earth, housing an immense bronze Buddha, or Daibatsu, cast in 752. Staggering stuff, and I revived sufficiently to enjoy it in the company of many hundreds of others. And dozens of deer.

Which made the visit to this old merchant’s house, alone and at opening time the next morning, all the more poignant. The beautiful co-mingling of interior and exterior, the simplicity and efficiency of design. Very Zen, and in its way more spiritual than most of the temples.

And here’s another thing. I lingered here unrushed, because I knew Japanese Railways would deliver me: Nara 10.00 to Kyoto, then 10.56 Shinkansen ‘bullet train’ 514 kms to Tokyo in little over two hours (13.13), change to local train arriving Ueno station 13.21 for onstage rehearsal at 13.35. That’s Japan, ancient and modern, in a nutshell.

What’s the EQ take on this? Lots to mull over; I have been in Receive mode all this time, absorbing a culture and way of life both older and newer, more and less sustainable, than our own. First point is the Japanese clearly ‘get’ equinoxes!

September 23rd, Prince Hotel Shinagawa, Minato Ku, Greater Tokyo; 08.00 JST

 

2 thoughts on “Shūbun no Hi! An autumn equinox in Japan

  1. Dear Martin, thanks for this especially lovely email. I love this time of equal daylight/night – a time for re-balancing, being grateful and celebrating the Harvest moon! Also it’s a time of rebirth – new beginnings – the Academic year and musical seasons, it also being the Vernal Equinox in the Southern Hemisphere. Happy Autumn Equinox to all – Flossie Miles X

  2. Hi Martin, thank you for your very interesting e mail. Glad to hear you had a wonderful time in Japan. I remember the culture so well from the last tour I was on in 2015. It is something everybody should experience and I am so pleased you had the opportunity to do it. Happy Equinox. John.

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