Today, I will introduce one of the five seasonal festivals in Japan, “CHŌYŌ NO SEKKU”.
CHŌYŌ NO SEKKU is also known as “KIKU NO SEKKU (Chrysanthemum Festival)” which takes place on September 9th every year.
We have 4 seasons in a year in Japan but why it’s one of the “FIVE seasonal festivals”?
The idea of the five seasonal festivals (called “GO-SEKKU”) originally came from China.
In the ancient Chinese Tang dynasty (618–907 A.D.), even numbers like 2,4,6,8,10 etc…were considered to be Yin (negative) and uneven numbers like 1,3,5,7,9 etc…were Yang (positive).
As you understand mathematically, an uneven number + an uneven number = an even number (ex. 1+1=2).
Therefore “1 and 1 (January 1st)”, “3 and 3 (March 3rd)”, “5 and 5 (May 5th)”, “9 and 9 (September 9th)” were negative days in the Chinese lunar calendar.
In order to ward off evil spirits of these negative day of Yin numbers, Chinese people is said to have taken vital energies from seasonal plants in each of those Yin days at that time.
In the HEIAN period of Japan (794-1192 A.D.), importing above idea from China and mixing with customs of Japanese farmers who treasured the blessings of nature, the GO-SEKKU started to be celebrated first in the imperial court, and then by common people too in the EDO period (1603-1868 A.D.) as it was officially designated as national holidays.
* January 1st is New Year Day, so it was replaced exceptionally with January 7th.
Although these festivals are remaining even now, the GO-SEKKU holiday system was abolished in the MEIJI period (1868-1912 A.D.) and unfortunately they are no longer days off now in Japan except May 5th, Children’s day.
Here, let’s list up each of the five seasonal festivals.
January 7th : 人日(JIN-JITSU, literally, “Human Day”)
To pray for good health over the New Year, being away from work for a while, people eat “NANAKUSA-GAYU (rice porridge with the seven herbs of spring)”.
March 3rd: 上巳(JYŌSHI, literally, “Top Serpent Day”)
Also known as “MOMO NO SEKKU (the peach blossom festival)” or “HINA MATSURI (Girl’s Day or Doll Festival)”. To pray for girls’ healthy growths by displaying “HINA-NINGYŌ (dolls depicting the Emperor and Empress of the HEIAN Period)”, dressing girls in KIMONOs, people eat GOMOKU-ZUSHI (a kind of Japanese SUSHI dishes made with rice mixed with various vegetables, fish and eggs) and HAMAGURI clam soup.
May 5th: 端午(TANGO, literally “Top 5th Day”)
Also known as “KODOMO NO HI” (Children’s day or Boy’s Day)
To pray for Boys’ healthy growth by displaying “GOGATSU-NINGYŌ (decorated armor, helmet, sword, doll warrior etc..)” and “KOI-NOBORI (carp streamer)”, people eat “KASHIWA-MOCHI (a rice cake which contains bean jam and is wrapped in an oak leaf)” and “CHIMAKI (a rice dumpling wrapped in bamboo leaves)” and take “SHŌBU-YU (a bath in which bundles of Japanese iris are floating)”.
July 7th: 七夕(SHICHISEKI, literally “7th evening”)
Also called “TANABATA (Star festival)”, see the past article for TANABATA Festival. To celebrate a meeting allowed only once a year for a young Japanese couple: “KENGYU (also known as “HIKOBOSHI”)” and his wife “ORIHIME” who were separated into each side of the Milky Way, and to make a wish up on the heaven by writing the wish on paper strips hung on bamboos.
September 9th: 重陽(CHŌYŌ, literally “Double Yang”)
Also known as “KIKU NO SEKKU (Chrysanthemum festival)”.
To pray for a long life, people appreciate chrysanthemums and drink “KIKU-ZAKE (Japanese sake liquor with chrysanthemum petals)” because chrysanthemums are said to have life extending power. In ONMYŌDŌ, an esoteric cosmology or divination originally came from ancient China, “9” is the largest number. So, since September 9th has double 9s shown, CHŌYŌ was considered to be very auspicious and for which splendid parties were held by aristocrats in the imperial court of the HEIAN period.
In the EDO period, a Confucianist Yoshifuru Kaibara mentioned CHŌYŌ was the most formal festival among the five in the “NIHON-SAIJIKI (“Book of Japanese seasons”, a series of books on the matters related with Japanese annual events or practices)”, “DAIMYOs (feudal lords)” also started celebrating it by holding events like chrysanthemum competition displaying “KIKU-NINGYŌs (dolls decorated by chrysanthemums)”.
Today, however, this CHŌYŌ NO SEKKU is no longer familiar to people compared to other four festivals which are still popular and celebrated throughout the nation.
I hope this article could be of some help to pass down this 5th seasonal festival as well to future generations because our children in the modern society have less and less opportunity to be exposed to this kind of culture.
Experiencing such traditional practices, you can naturally cultivate “OMOIYARI”, a sensitivity and consideration to others, which is a key word of Yamato Gokoro.