Q: I noticed the cemeteries outside my base in Japan were bustling with activity last week. What was up with that?

A: Wednesday was the height of higan, a weeklong celebration of the spring equinox — one of two days each year when daytime and nighttime are of equal duration.

But it’s more than just a celebration of the change of seasons. In Buddhism, it’s the day when Buddha comes to earth to help stray souls cross the river believed to separate the living world from the spiritual world. It’s considered a good day for dead folks, and their survivors help celebrate by visiting family graves. While the family members are there, they’ll clean up the gravesite, pray, and leave flowers, incense and sweet rice balls called botamochi as an offering to the departed. It’s by no means a solemn occasion as families often will find a spot nearby to spread a picnic, complete with sake, to celebrate their ancestors and the coming of spring.

Got a question about goings-on in the Pacific? E-mail Stacy Chandler at:

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