Grave Cleaning Day

In the traditional Tokyo neighborhood of Yanaka, the smell of incense and sounds of people scrubbing gravestones fills the air every year on September 23. It’s higan, the time of the equinox, and Japanese people go to graveyards all over the country for ohaka mairi (grave visits) to pay their respects to their ancestors.
It’s said that the Higan observance comes from a Buddhist belief that when the night and day are equally divided, Buddha appears on earth for a week to save stray souls and lead them to Nirvana, so there are observances both in spring (shunbun) and autumn (shubun).

A woman on her way to pay her respects at a grave.

This woman is carrying a sotoba, a wooden stick which has the deceased person’s kaimyo written on it. A kaimyo is a special name that is given to the person after he or she dies.

A typical grave.

Burning Doll

Ningyo Kuyo, a festival in which people bring unwanted dolls to a temple to be disposed of in a special ritual. Japanese people can be very superstitious about dolls, and apparently don’t like to throw them away, believing that they have souls. During the festival, a Shinto Priest says prayers for the dolls and then they are burned.
This festival is coming up on Thursday the 25th of September at the Kiyomizu Kannon-do temple in Ueno park, Tokyo every year. It starts at 2:00 PM. The reason the festival is held on the 25th, and not on a weekend like most rituals is that 25 (nijyu go) sounds like the word for doll (ningyo).