【AUTUMN】How to Enjoy the “Chrysanthemum Festival” on September 9th

It is one of five festivals in Japan. September 9th is also called Choyo-no-sekku or Kiku-no-sekku, because the chrysanthemum, or ‘kiku’ is the seasonal flower on the old Chinese calendar.


Why the 9th of September brings good fortune

Since ancient times, odd numbers are thought to be lucky in Japan and China. Dates when odd numbers are repeated are thought to bring good luck. But they are also thought as bad luck, so people celebrate the day but drive evil spirits out at the same time. The number ‘9’ is the largest odd number between 1 and 10. September 9th, 9/9, is a really lucky day because it has the largest odd number in it’s date! It means “duplicating the yang” (positive), called “Choyo-no-sekku” in Japanese. This day was then designated as a day to celebrate longevity and prosperity.

The history of Japan and the chrysanthemum flower

The imperial seal of Japan.

The chrysanthemum, kiku in Japanese, was brought to Japan from China during the Nara period (710 – 793 AC). In 1183, it was adopted as the Imperial Seal of Japan, and during the Meiji period (1868-1912) no one but the Emperor could use it.  Nowadays it still represents the authority of the emperor and you can see it on emblems, shinto shrines‘ doors, the Japanese passport…etc. The chrysanthemum is a common pattern in Japanese culture, often used on kimonos and accessories, paintings, and even the 50 yens coin. 

“Choyo-no-sekku” is also called “Kiku-no-sekku”, literally meaning “chrysanthemum festival”.  The chrysanthemum has been used as medicine in Japan since ancient times and it is believed that it has the power of longevity. The flower was introduced to Japan with the legend of a village where people drinking water from a source surrounded by chrysanthemum could live more than 100 years old. There is even a myth of a child who lived for over 700 years, thanks to its supernatural powers.
The chrysanthemum festival was also brought from China. The noblemen of ancient Japan used to enjoy gazing at the rare chrysanthemums from China and making wishes for longevity. During the Edo period, this custom became popular among the masses and is still alive today.

How to make a wish for longevity and cast evil away!

 

First of all, you need to prepare a cotton and a chrysanthemum. Officially, you’re supposed to use red, white, or yellow cotton, but white will do. Before the night of the chrysanthemum festival, blanket the cotton over the chrysanthemum. This will derive the essence of spiritual power from the chrysanthemum According to the myth, if you wipe your body with the cotton containing the scent and dewdrops from the chrysanthemum, you will live longer. Easy!

Other ways to drive out evil with chrysanthemums include ‘kiku-yu,’ which is putting chrysanthemum flowers in your bath water, and sleeping with a pillow with chrysanthemums inside. Displaying chrysanthemums or setting up a potpourri beside your pillow is also good.

Chrysanthemum related food

A shinto priestess is serving kiku-zake at Kifune shrine (Source: http://www.imamiya.jp/haruhanakyoko/she/kifuneaki/photograph02.htm)

There are many things to eat for Choyo-no-sekku. Did you know that the chrysanthemum flower is also edible? Absorb its powers by eating it in salad, tempura, in a light soup… Japanese people also drink “kiku-zake”, which is Japanese rice wine with a floating petal of chrysanthemum. Japanese people also usually eat chestnut rice and eggplants on this day. It is said to be healthy if you eat eggplants during this season, so you can prevent fever-like symptoms.  There are also many adorable chrysanthemum shaped sweets available during this period.

A chrysanthemum shaped Japanese traditional cake by wagashi artist Junichi Mitsubori

Come and see the ritual at Kamigamo shrine, Kyoto

The Saio-dai makes an apparition during the celebration. (Source: https://ameblo.jp/kizuna-ameba/entry-12322869347.html)

If you are in the Kyoto area around this date, why not visit Kamigamo shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage site? From 10 am there will be a special Shinto rite to celebrate the day. You can drink ‘kiku-zake‘ and observe a peculiar ritual in which the priests imitate crows (considered sacred at this shrine). The Saio-dai, the woman who represent an imperial princess for a year and especially during Kyoto’s  famous Aoi Matsuri, will also make an apparition. 

Access: 15mn on foot from Kitayama Station (Karasuma Subway Line)

The shrine’s official website (English): Kamigamo Jinja

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AUTHOR

kyoami

kyoami

Writer/ Translator

I love Japanese folkcraft article, traditional handicrafts and antiques. I’m seeking the Japanese people’s religious outlooks and its origins that are behind Japanese people’s unique sense and techniques rooted in the ordinary life.