Equinox, ancestor, and nature
The sun rises due east and sets due west twice a year – at the vernal and spring equinox. Buddhists have considered that on these two days, the distance between heaven, where ancestors are in, and this world becomes closest because another world is thought be located due west. Based on this idea, a Japanese custom, that asks for a monk to chant a Buddhist mantra and visit and clean up family graves to worship ancestors for a week centering around the spring and autumn equinox, was born. Besides, since the length of the day becomes longer from spring equinox, the day (around 21th March) is known as the beginning of the spring. On that day, Japanese have prayed for a good harvest of the year. Because of this tradition that shows gratitude for nature and ancestors, the spring equinox is now a national holiday in Japan.
Kamikoani village is a small community whose population is under 3000. In that village, a bonfire-like event is held every night of the spring equinox to welcome ancestors. Giant words created of fire, called “Matobi,” are lit on burial grounds, rice fields, hills, and dry riverbeds surrounding the village, and cast a dreamy light on this mountainous region with unmelted snow.