Chōyō no Sekku: The Fall Festival

When following traditional festivals and celebrations in Japan, you find out a few interesting things, such as specific ones may have more than one date depending on the prefecture, or goes by a different name depending on the history of each town. For this article, I will introduce Chōyō no Sekku, a festival with a long tradition.

UNDERSTANDING THE TRADITION

Chōyō no Sekku (重陽の節句 ) is 1 of the 5 seasonal festival that originates from Inyō Gogyo Setsu. Before modern times, this took place on the 9th day of the 9th month based on the inreki (陰暦, old calendar). One of the reasons is that according to auspicious readings in ancient Chinese philosophy, odd numbered days are viewed as lucky, while even numbered days are seen as unlucky days. Since 9 is the highest single-digit odd number, Chōyō no Sekku was designated on this date. After Japan adopted a more modernized calendar, this date was changed accordingly by about a month, and takes place on a different day each year within that month. For example, this year it falls on the 25th of October.

In the old calendar, this festival took place around the same time chrysanthemums were in bloom. According to the adjustments the new calendar brings, this still holds true. Due to this, it also received the alternate name of “Kiku no Sekku” (菊の節句, Chrysanthemum Festival). This isn’t coincidental, but possibly intentional due to what chrysanthemum stands for.

Since ancient times in China, these flowers were believed to give a longevity of good health and fortune by warding away evil spirits. This belief was also brought over to and adopted in Japan. Amongst specific groups, they are deemed valuable and used for important activities, such as in Shintō and Buddhist rituals. There is an old phrase that describes the chrysanthemum as “senkyō ni saku reiyaku¹”, which means “the elixir that grows within the enchanted lands²”. This truly expresses this sense of value the chrysanthemum had in the past.

ORIGIN AND HISTORY

Origins of this festival is said to have 1st passed on as a ritual in China during during ancient times. When it started to become a regularly practiced festival during the start of the Heian period (794~1185) in Japan, it entailed going to designated areas within the Imperial grounds of the Capital and viewing the beautiful gardens that were full of chrysanthemums. This was called “Kangiku no En“ (観菊の宴, Chrysanthemum Viewing Party) or “Kiku no En” (菊の宴, Chrysanthemum Party) for short. Noble families also grew these chrysanthemums on their property as a means to ward away bad luck. Over the centuries, this value for chrysanthemums trickled down to common folks living in different areas of Japan. Due to its wide popularity, it became recognized as an official seasonal festival.

Outside of viewing these flowers, people decorate their surroundings with chrysanthemums. For example, they may be placed on top of certain objects, put inside of a pillow, have petals float on the bath water, or put them in a special pouch within their clothing. Along with its appealing visual appearance, the fragrance from the  chrysanthemums are said to aromatic.

FESTIVE FOODS & DRINKS

This festival is not only just about looking at or surrounding yourself with chrysanthemums; like the other seasonal festivals, Chōyō no Sekku also has the custom of consuming specific foods and drinks.

Pic of kikuzake. From Photo-AC.

One example is kikuzake (菊酒) , which people would drink as they strolled through those beautiful floral gardens an gazed upon at these flowers In the past. Kikuzake stands for “chrysanthemum wine”, which is made with the actual flower. If placed in a cup, then the actual flower or a few petals would be placed inside to float on the surface. This went along with the celebration, as consuming it in this fashion synonymous to getting eternal life and/or warding evil. In actually, chrysanthemums are filled with nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and Glutathione. Even though these wouldn’t really grant you eternal life, drinking kikuzake would at least help you to stay healthy just for a little bit.

A bowl of kurigohan incorporated in a meal. From Photo-AC.

Another is kurigohan (栗ご飯), which is a simple dish of rice with diced chestnuts on top. Like chrysanthemum, chestnuts grow in the Fall. Being a source of food that was gathered in villages in the past, it was used to make sweets. During preparations for Chōyō no Sekku, kurigohan became a popular dish to eat.

ENDING

With Fall in effect, Chōyō no Sekku is one of the seasonal events that can be participated in different ways, whether through flower viewing, home decor, or through a meal. Take note that while the date from the old calendar may be recognized and referenced, the date on the new calendar is generally followed. As mentioned earlier, this year Chōyō no Sekku will be celebrated on 10/25, but will fall on a different date within October in the following years.



1) 仙境に咲く霊薬. Senkyō refers to the enchanted and often fairytale-like world that sennin (仙人, miracle workers in the form of monks, holy men, wise men) reside in through mysterious powers. Usually regular people who have “evolved” through enlightenment from their studies and training, they visit the human plane at free will. When given a more realistic spin, senkyō refers to areas where these enlightened individuals choose to reside far away from normal civilization, such as mountains and forests. 

2) Reiyaku is equivalent to an elixir or miracle drug that is said give a person enteral life. This can also be in the form of a drink. Usually associated with concoctions made with medicinal-like ingredients such as herbs, plants, pure water from the mountains, etc.

Experiencing Japanese Festivals ~ PART 2

In part 1, I shared my experience in attending a matsuri, or festival in Japan. For this article, I will elaborate more on one of the main components found in large festivals, which is the dashi. This will include the history, design, differences from the mikoshi, and the many names it is known under based on area.

DEFINITION AND BEGINNINGS

Dashi is written as “山車” in Japanese. At 1st glance one would think phonetically it should be pronounced  “sansha” or “yamaguruma”. Why “dashi” is used is not really known.  From a literal translation you get “rolling mountain” or “mountain on wheels”. This has a deep meaning due to how it originated.

The dashi is associated with festive celebrations that have roots in ritualistic practices. Its purpose is to call down kami (神, usually identified as divine spirits, deities, and gods) that have some connection to ancient Shintō beliefs¹ from the heavens into man-made mountains that were made out of trees, leaves, pieces of lumber, and other natural materials. Through this show of worship, the locals sought protection from evil spirits & calamity, or to receive continual good fortune for their area, which is believed to have been granted by these gods.

An account of the origins and meaning behind the term dashi. From “Me de miru Hachioji no Dashi Matsuri”.

The origins of this ritual is said to come from an ancient belief that certain inanimate objects housed gods, especially for those that are higher up in the sky. This was especially true for mountain tops, as well as rocks & trees that are found high up on mountains. It is thought that people at the time wanted to invite these divine spirits that they worship into a special medium during times of ritualistic festivities. Thus the dashi was invented. Another thought is the dashi was originally brought up a mountain to where it would be tall enough to be the major point of attraction for these divine spirits. In order to do so, wheels were attached to it so it could be pulled up a mountain.

Certain historical documents like the Kojiki (古事記), Zoku Nihon Kōki (続日本後紀), Kiki (記紀), and Ruigu Kokushi (類聚国史) give the notion that ritualistic festivities that incorporate the dashi was normal practice as far back as the Heian period (794 ~ 1185). This ranges from the age-long festivities that took place in Gion, Kyōto (this was originally the capital city where the Imperial family and noble families resided in), to during a ceremonial event called Daijōe (大嘗会)² . In the past, the dashi went under such titles like Shime yama (標山)³ and Yamaboko (山鉾). These different events, in some shape or form, was to ward off misfortune and calamity away from the area and its inhabitants through the protection of the deity being called for.

These festivals were carried out in rich & prosperous areas like Kyōto up until feudal warring for the sake of control over Japan became excessive, such as during Sengoku period. Once Japan was unified under the rule of the Tokugawa clan, festivals featuring the dashi resumed. As different prefectures became developed during Edo period, many towns also adopted this traditional practice as they started their own festivals, which includes building their own unique dashi. Today, the artistic construction of the dashi used throughout Japan is a visual spectacle that attracts much attention, both from the locals to visitors from other countries. It can be argued that much of the ritual/worship aspect is a minor for these festivals, or gone all together from people’s minds. Still, this has not deterred such festivals to continue, and this may be due in part of the dashi.

DIFFERENCES FROM THE MIKOSHI

A common object used during festivals is the mikoshi (神輿). Like the dashi, this plays an important role in accordance to Shinto traditions. However, it shouldn’t be confused with the dashi for they are not the same at all. Below is a list of the differences for both the mikoshi and the dashi.

3 mikoshi of different sizes. From Photo-ac.com

Mikoshi

  • Mini shrine to transport local god to temporary shrine
  • Houses divine spirit that remains closed to the public
  • No humans are allowed in
  • Carried as they are light

A mikoshi is made in the semblance of a mini shrine. It’s purpose is to transport the deity that resides in the main shrine to a temporary shrine during the procession. General public are not allowed to see the inside of the containment on the mikoshi, which supposedly houses the god of the local shrine. This is the same as when visiting the main shrine.  The mikoshi is much smaller than a dashi, and, depending on design and weight,  is generally carried by 2-4 people. 

A dashi in motion. From Photo-ac.com

Dashi

  • Design is a large float-like vehicle
  • Means to attract divine spirit
  • Live entertainment by human inside
  • Pulled as they can be very heavy

As mentioned before, the dashi is a large float-like vehicle that is designed to rival a mountain. They are usually adorned with eye-catchy accessories, which is much different from the mikoshi. The purpose of the dashi is to not only be attractive to the local god to come down and embark inside, but to be as source of entertainment to appease the god. People are allowed to sit inside the dashi, and act as the source of entertainment. To further assist with this, workers may also sit on the sides and/or on top of the dashi. As one can imagine, the design can make for a rather large and heavy vehicle. With wheels attached to the bottom, a dashi is pulled by a good number of people in order for it to move⁴.

MORE THAN ONE NAME

The common name used today to describe this mountain-on-wheels throughout Japan is “dashi”. However there are specialty & colloquial labels used as well. Here’s a list of these unique titles along with the areas in Japan you will most likely be able to hear them.

1) Yamaboko (山鉾) = Previously mentioned, this could have the meaning of “mountain lance” or “mountain that pierces the sky”. Thought as one of the earlier terms for dashi. This title is used in Kyōto.

2) Yamagasa (山笠) = Literally translates as “mountain-umbrella”. Used in Hakata City, Fukuoka. Records on the reasoning behind the term is non-existent. Furthermore, the dashi used do not give a clue, for the dashi used in Hakata City always have a new design every year.

3) Yatai (屋台) = Used in Tochigi Prefecture. A title that actually has the same meaning as dashi, but nowadays acts as a word for booths, stalls, and the like that are set up at festivals and amusement parks where locals can play games and buy food. For the matsuri held in Tochigi, yatai is still reserved for use as the name for the dashi.

4) Hikiyama (曳山) = Can be translated as “a mountain that is pulled along”. Considered an older word, it is still used in certain areas, such as Shiga Prefecture and Saga Prefecture.

5) Saisha (祭車) = An interesting dashi used in Mie Prefecture. One of its unique traits is that it features a 3-wheeled wagon design with percussion instruments such as symbols and drum hanging from the back, and may have many lanterns positioned on top. Unlike other bigger counterparts, the saisha design tends to have it on the small side, with decorations on top of its roof that makes it look taller. This makes it not have a lot of room for anyone to sit on, if at all. Also, performers can play music at the back as they walk along with the saisha.

6) Danjiri (地車, 壇尻) = This label is used primarily in the western part of Japan. Danjiri stands out from the rest of the dashi with its longer shape and somewhat lower roofing. This lends to an older looking architecture that can seat many workers during the festival. Another point worth mentioning is that danjiri are known for their speed, as they are pulled around at a faster pacing.

DECORATING A DASHI

Over time the architecture of the dashi has evolved and has become a work of art. Each prefecture have their own team or hire specialists that craft their dashi according to the vision they have in order to tell their story. As can be seen in the pictures provided, some creativity goes into designing a dashi to be tall & adorned with different accessories, yet still leave ample room for the workers to sit or hang on. Some, on the other hand, are designed where instead of a person, a doll depicting a warrior or a mythical creature sits on the dashi. Architectural design gives credence to this, as some may be shaped like a small building with multiple tiers and roofing which allows many people to board on it. Others may be built like a room or chamber, where individuals dressed like nobles sit during the procession. Then there are those that may bear a design like a stage and have a kabuki actor perform.

The terms dashi gazari (山車飾り) and dashi kanagu (山車金具) are used when referring to decorations & metallic parts for the dashi. These decorations consists of pillars, golden emblems & plates, embroidery fabrics, curtains, ropes, and drums. Some boost decorations similar to that on shrines, while others may have an appears that is wild like something out of folklore. Most of these have a strong Asian motif, with concepts coming from Shinto or Buddhism. Then there are those that make use of dashi ningyō (人形, doll), which can range to it being small to larger than human size.

The decorations have special meaning. For example, they may tell the story behind the start of that particular area’s dashi matsuri, portray famous individuals or mystical beings, or they may inspire a quality that is synonymous with the town or area. One example is the large festival that takes place in Morioka City, Iwate Prefecture, where some organizations participate with their own specialty dashi. These tend to be based on old Japanese folklore and kabuki plays, such as Urashima Tarō, Bō-shibari, and Yoshitsune Senbon-zakura. As one would expect, creating elaborately fancy dashi meant that they got a special name as well, so their style can be remembered when recorded in each area’s catalogue.

CONCLUSION

This wraps up this article about dashi. One article is not enough to describe the plethora of unique dashi that are rolled out each year in Japan. While seeing them in pictures is great, physically being in the crowds of a festival to see them during the procession is an experience you’ll never forget. Hope this article is convincing enough to make the trip out to Japan if you haven’t (that is, once the world has settled down and traveling becomes safe).


1) Ancient Shintō (古神道, Ko-Shintō) is considered vastly different from modern Shinto today, as it incorporated a more archaic ideology regarding nature, spirits, and how humans interact with them. Form of worship was much more open-ended, as its basis included primitive, esoteric beliefs such as animism. Over time, however, this changed once Taoism and Buddhism were introduced to Japan, and over time Ancient Shintō and other older beliefs started to be pushed away.

2) Also written as Daijōsai (大嘗祭), and can also be pronounced Oonie -matsuri and Ooname-matsuri.

3) Also written as Shime no yama (標の山).

4) At one point in time, cows were used to pull a dashi.

Experiencing Japanese Festivals ~ PART 1

This year I was really looking forward to my summer vacation in Japan. However, due to the current pandemic, this was not possible. Some of the activities my family and I had planned included seeing the street festival that takes place in my wife’s hometown. Street festivals are a great sight to experience, as it really shows the unity and pride in these by the local townfolks. I don’t often take pictures when I travel about or take part in special occasions like this, for I prefer to take in the experience and enjoy every moment without disengaging by taking out my camera. Recently I stumbled upon some actual pics of me and my family taking part in a street festival, and figured I’d share it here.

These pictures are from late summer of 2009. Japan is especially humid around this time, so we could dress in light, comfortable clothing. Many of the town folks, along with my family, gathered late in the day along a busy street in Motoyokoyama Town (元横山町) in Hachiōji City (八王子市), which is located in the western part of Tokyo. We all arrived early while preparations were at hand. This street festival, called “Hachiōji Matsuri” (八王子祭), is done annually in August. The main attraction is the numerous dashi (山車), which are like large floats that are competitively designed and adorned to be the best spectacle to the crowds of people.

The dashi, along with other elements featured during the street festival, are supported by the Hachiman Yakumo Jinja (八幡八雲神社), which is the main shrine of this part of the city. While considered a young tradition since the formal development of Hachiōji during the Edo period, it is recorded that festivals of this nature have been in practice in rich & flourishing areas since the Heian period (794~1185), such as Kyoto.

Wearing a happi (法被, traditional light coat especially used for working) shows one’s support for the festivities at hand. Most participants wore different types of happi depending on their role during the festival. Myself and my daughter (pic above) also wore a happi we received from my parents-in-law.

In these street festivals, a procession takes place. Depending on the celebration, certain objects or equipment will be used. Here we can see a mikoshi (神輿), which is a shintō vehicle designed to house the god that is worshiped and considered the guardian of this section of Hachiōji. There are actually two gods of the Hachiman Yakumo Jinja, which are Hondawake-no-Mikoto (誉田別命) and Susanoo-no-Mikoto (素戔嗚尊).

Take note that although this follows along a tradition, esoteric & religious beliefs may not be so prominent for the festival or even amongst those participating. Instead, the enjoyment and unity such events bring are the winning point for many. As for the mikoshi, it is an adorned vehicle which the inside cannot be seen. It is also a portable size, allowing several individuals to easily carry during the procession. Generally speaking, a mikoshi is a work of art and unique between the many towns and prefectures found in Japan.

Next is the dashi, which is the vehicle that is used to attract the gods from the heavens, and have them be entertained in order to keep their interest to stay for the festival. There were a few present at this street festival. Unlike the mikoshi, a dashi is a very tall vehicle similar to a float. There is usually one entertainer minimum sitting inside the float, but there can be more. Also there can be entertainers riding outside on the sides or even on top of the dashi. Due to their size and weight, the dashi has wheels in order for it to move and has to be pulled by several workers. Dashi also showcase some impressive designs and decorations. They are intricately planned, and have skilled designers craft these decorations. Up close they are a sight to see. Depending on the town, the design and decorations are unique and have special meanings.

We stayed for several hours, as the festival continued in the night. In preparation for this, the street lamps came on. Along with this, the glowing lanterns and lights on the dashi added an eerie yet mystical aura as darkness slowly draped around us.

On the side of the streets were vendors selling food and drinks. These were handy if you needed some form of nourishment to keep going, or if you just wanted to have a good time and enjoy the street food.

We’ve come to the end of this little walk down memory lane regarding Japanese street festival. Hope you all enjoyed a glimpse into it through the pictures provided. In my next post, I will continue to discuss about festivals that place dashi as the main attraction, which will include the lore and the distinguishing points that put it in a class of its own.

Nedoshi: The Rat Comes in 1st Place in 2020

chinese-new-year-background-with-rats-and-flowers-vector8496952302415499957.jpg
Illustration by Vecteezy

With the arrival of the New year, there is also a new Lunar year, which plays a significant part on the prospects people can look forward to…at least for those who follow it. For the last several years I’ve covered each new year, from the representative animal sign, to any historical details that may be important. This year, I will try something new. Along with the cultural background, there will be a short story regarding the 1st zodiac animal sign for this year.

YEAR OF THE RAT

For 2020, the Lunar Zodiac cycle has restarted completely back to the beginning of the Chinese Calendar, making it the year of the rat. Pronunciation for rat is “nezumi” in Japanese, while the kanji used to represent the lunar year is “子年”, which is pronounced “nedoshi” or “nezumidoshi”. While many have started acknowledging the new lunar year, keep in mind that, in accordance to the Chinese Calendar, this doesn’t start until January 25th.

The lunar zodiac sign “子” is attached to the rat both image-wise and in pronunciation only for the Lunar year; as with the other zodiac signs, this sign did not originally mean rat, nor was it supposed to be represented by an animal. Interestingly, when the Lunar year falls on the rat, one of the symbolism used is growth or fertility. The character “子” has a meaning of small child, so prospects for the year range from increase child birth, seeds growing into plants, to having an abundance in harvest. A word related to this is “nezumizan” (ねずみ算), which means multiplying in numbers. This year being the start of the 12-year lunar cycle could play a role in this.

Along with the 12 Animal Zodiac signs, there is the incorporation of the 10 Heavenly Stem, which is written with the kanji “十干” and pronounced “Jikkan” in Japanese. Some things to note:

  • Jikkan has also gone full circle within its 60-year cycle, and starts off with “甲”
  • 甲 is pronounced “kinoe” in Japanese
  • In ancient times, 甲 meant 1st in the 10-year cycle, while other (more modern) meanings include “shell”, “armor”, and “insects”
  • Kinoe represents “light-metal”, being a combination of ying-yang theory and the 5 elements
  • Going hand-in-hand with the 12 animals, we get a pairing of “kinoe-ne” (甲子, metal-rat)
  • Accordingly, 2020 is marked as the 37th year of the Sexagenary (60) year cycle

2020 also receives the title “庚子”, which is pronounced “kanoe-ne” in Japanese. In English this stands for “Year of the White Metal Rat”.

TRAITS OF THE RAT

In terms of human qualities, the rat sign represents being shrewd with spending of money, which leads to good saving habits. For this year, it is advised to avoid being too stingy with money, and squandering it on useless things. On top of this, the rat attributes to being cunning & clever, have a good discerning eye for when situations are good or bad, and being able to live laid back and calm especially in solitude.

Outside of the Lunar calendar, here’s how the rat sign was used for conventional means:

  • Time = from 11 pm to 1 am (-1 hr due to daylight savings in the states)
  • Direction = north (360°)
  • Month = November (according to Japan’s old calendar)
  • Energy = light (yang)
  • Element = water

RAT TAKES THE LEAD ROLE

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Today’s story features the rat as the star, with the cat being the critical co-star! Illustration from frame-illust.com

In order for the Chinese Lunar Zodiac to be appealing to the common people, the tale about animals coming together to represent the 12 years was used. Over the ages, the tale had different settings, although the outcomes were always the same.

For this post, I added one version of this tale, which centers the attention on the rat. It is a short tale, one that I translated from Japanese to English. The original source is from “Eto Jōhō Site” (干支情報サイト), which can be accessed here.

__________

nezumi_hanashi01

A long, long time ago at the dawn of time, the Heavenly God made an announcement to all the animals throughout the lands.

“As the world is greeted by the New Year, come all to my kingdom on the morning of New Year’s day. Whichever 12 of you who are the fastest here will be appointed as an animal commander, where each of you will represent one year according to the order of your arrival. “

Upon hearing the announcement, each animal was very serious about this, with thoughts about being number one. They waited for New Year’s Day to come. It just so happened that the cat forgot which day they were to go to the Heavenly God’s place. The rat intentionally told the cat one day later than the appointed date, which the cat took at face value for the time, and happily went home.

nezumi_hanashi02

When New Year’s day finally arrived, the ox thought to himself, “I should set out slightly early, since I do walk slow”. Making preparations while it was still late night, the ox headed out while it was still dark. The rat, who spotted the ox from the top of the ox’s shed, sprang up into the air and landed on the ox’s back.

With thoughts about wanting to be 1st as well, the rat pleasantly waited there, as the gates to the Heavenly Palace opened. Immediately it jumped down from the ox’s back, and scurried through the gates, making the rat the 1st to arrive. Following this, the order in which the animals arrived is the ox as 2nd, next the tiger, then the rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep (goat), monkey, rooster, dog, and boar (pig). As a side note, the cat arrived one day late to the Heavenly Palace, thus there are no good relations between the rat and the cat.

To this day, it’s believed that cats chase rats due to the grudge they bear from being deceived by that one rat.

__________

With the prospects of this year being a prosperous one in terms of growth, let’s all do our best and end the year as winner, just like the rat did!

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illustration by dak

Greeting 2020 with Kadomatsu

明けましておめでとうございます!

Happy New Year!

Now that 2020 is upon up, there is much to look forward to in the new year. To get off at a good start, I’ll start off with a post about a tradition connect to new years in Japan.

The 2 center pieces in the picture above are called “kadomatsu” (門松), which translates as “pine decoration by the gates”. More than just decoration, it is part of an old tradition where people would put these in front of their gates or by their doors to attract prosperity and fortune throughout the year from the deity called “Toshigami” (年神). Depending on the area in Japan, people would place the kadomatsu as early as the end of Christmas, to around the start of the oshōgatsu (お正月), or new year in Japanese. This will stay out until seven days after the new year. This goes in accordance to the week-long break everyone has in order to celebrate oshōgatsu in Japan.

The history of kadomatsu is old, with its roots going as far back as ancient China. Originally it starts off with simply matsu, or pine. Pine is resilient during the winter and retains its deep green color. For that, it is seen as a symbol of longevity, and is used at shrines for the sake of worshiping different deities. It would later be combined with take, or bamboo, around the Kamakura period (1185 – 1333). Nowadays, it is widely used in front of people’s gates, around the doorway of homes, and the entrances of business establishments. Historically there are different designs and sizes of the kadomatsu, making it that there is no one predominant look that must be followed.

Matsu (pine) and take (bamboo) have a high value in Japan, as there are many beliefs of blessings people can receive from them. This is because as plants they display strong characteristics, and possess long-lasting lifespan. It’s reasons like these that the kadomatsu, a combination of the two, represents “longevity”.

There is a saying related to the kadomatsu, which goes as so:

「松は千歳を契り、竹は万代を契る」
“Matsu wa senzai wo chigiri, take wa manyo wo chigiru”

Literal translation is “Pine grants one thousand years, while bamboo grants thousands of years”, but the actual meaning is wishing for an eternal life filled with good fortune. It’s believed that a person can receive this if their kadomatsu is successful as a yorishiro (deity medium) in attracting the Toshigami to reside inside it.

For my family, we brought ours out at the start of new years, and keep them inside our house near the door.

Reiwa no Hajimari: Enthronement of the New Emperor

On May 1st, from around 10:30 am¹ the official ceremony where now Emperor Naruhito ascended upon the throne and became the 126 Emperor of Japan commenced. This took place at the Imperial Palace located in Tokyo Prefecture. The ceremony, entitled “Shin-Tennō Heika Sokui” (新天皇陛下即位), was televised and almost 2 hours long! Of course, this included waiting time, as well as departure time of both Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako.

Emperor Naruhito (2nd from right) and Empress Masako (right) stand in front of their guests during the enthronement ceremony.

To summarize, the live broadcast of the ceremony consisted of several segments, a few more significant than others:

1) The arrival of new Emperor Naruhito & guests to the palace (即位の儀式へ)

2) Passing of the 3 Imperial Treasures (剣璽等承継の儀²)

3) Arrival of new Empress Masako (皇后雅子さまが皇居へ出発)

4) Invitees taking audience before the new Emperor & Empress (即位後朝見の儀³)

5) First speech by the new Emperor (初おことば⁴)

Passing of the 3 Imperial Treasures (sword, mirror, and jewels) to Emperor Naruhito.

Some segments were much shorter than others. Still, it was a momentous occasion for many who were able to watch the ceremony.

Final moments of the ceremony. Click on each pic for a short description.

From here on, Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako represent the Imperial family. May 1 is also the start of the new era Reiwa, which also marks their time of reign.


1) Japan is 13 hours ahead of where I live, so the ceremony has long past from the time of writing this post.

2) Pronounced “Kenji tō Shōkei no Gi”

3) Pronounced “Sokui go Chōken no Gi”

4) Pronounced “Hatsu Okotoba”.

Marishiten For All in 2019

Recently I learned that there is another important element in celebrating the new Lunar year of 2019. In accordance to how the boar is the Zodiac sign in Japan, there is another tradition seen very prominent this year, which is the revering of the deity Marishiten¹. There is a connection being applied here, and it’s primarily linked to the boar. I will touch upon that point, while also giving an overview of Marishiten as viewed in Japan.

ORIGINS

Marishiten is a deity within Buddhism that represents light and the sun, and is worshiped by many Buddhist sects. Believed to have originated from India’s Hindu beliefs, then passed on into Buddhism. Later the image and reverence of this deity spread throughout Asia alongside with Buddhism. After esoteric Buddhism was established in Japan, the worship of Marishiten continued in numerous Buddhist temples around the country.

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A statue in the image of Marishiten. From Wikipedia.

IMAGE & TRAITS

There are countless depictions of Marishiten based on how she² is viewed, as well as the region where she is worshiped at. In Japan, she can be seen having multiple faces, and numerous arms where each are holding different weapons such as a bow & arrow. In some cases, the sun and the moon are also in her possession amongst the weapons. Out of these images, at times she is shown to be beautiful and elegant, while other times she appears fierce and war-like as if rushing into battle. One thing that almost all these images have in common is Marishiten is shown accompanied by boars, where she is standing (or saddling) on the back of a boar, or sitting on top of several boars. The meaning behind the boars is her ability to charge forward fearlessly and with absolute resolve into battle. Due to this image, there is an association with boars, to the point that at temples that feature a room or hall dedicated to Marishiten, there are statues of boars that are symbolic as guardians³.

Marishiten is a deva turned into a guardian deity according to Buddhist beliefs. She is often depicted as a goddess of light of the sun and moon, as her name stands for “rays of light⁴”. Believed to originally possess a form of fire, Marishiten’s traits include being a source of light, and impervious to harm. As one of light, her abilities include creating illusions, and becoming invisible by positioning herself in front of the sun. As a whole, Marishiten represents a medium for avoiding harm, illnesses, and disasters. Many believers pray for her protection by chanting specific mantras specially designated to her. It is also believed that she can cure certain illnesses, resolve disputes, and ensure safe child birth.

PROTECTION FOR WARRIORS

After the introduction of Buddhism in Japan, warriors saw value in worshiping Marishiten for her protection as early as the 12th century. This came about when many believed that she could ensure victory through granting invisibility to others. This idea of being invisible is not to be taken literally; what it meant was a warrior could avoid attacks from their enemies by not being noticed within their line of sight. This was especially desired during times of war, for warriors were known to carry an image of Marishiten on their person while stepping onto the battlefield, such as archers wearing necklaces bearing a carving in the resemblance of Marishiten. Reknown figures such as Kusunoki Masashige⁵, Shimazu Yoshihiro⁶, and Tokugawa Ieyasu⁷ are known to have been great believers in this.

During the Asuka period (538-710), Prince Shōtoku was a great supporter of Buddhism early in Japan (left picture, middle, from Wikipedia). As one who studied the Buddhist sutras, it is said he received Marishiten’s aid in expelling the rivaling Mononobe clan. In reference to this event, the document “Ninjutsu Ōgi Den” gives a brief acknowledgment (outlined in red) where Prince Shōtoku is praised as “being cultivated & true to the warrior’s way…, he possessed the secret methods (of Buddhism) through the will of Marishiten and Kongō Rikishi.” (right picture, from author’s collection)

Outside of the battlefield, for those engaged in non-combatant scenarios such as spying and stealing in, they would pray for the ability to move undetected in order to complete their tasks. Groups utilizing shinobi no jutsu (known by the modern term ninjutsu) are an example of this. During peaceful times, Marishiten was still an essential asset within some martial systems. For some, through the incorporation of esoteric Buddhism, prayers to Marishiten helped to inspired self perfection. For others, her image helped to protect the teachings of their martial system.

Until the abolishment of the warrior caste, Marishiten was one of the deities most essential to those who wished to achieve victory against their foes.

GOOD FORTUNE

From Edo period, Marishiten was made a patron of wealth and prosperity primarily to merchants and entertainers. This made her one of the “Santen⁸”, or 3 Deities, within Japan. The Santen is a label for 3 major deities specifically designated as patrons of luck and fortune for those in specific occupations. At some point, these 3 Deities were viewed as beneficial to everyone, thus the general mass began to pray to them as well.

Tokudai Temple is one of the few temples that is dedicated in the worship of Marishiten (left). The pic on the right shows that temple’s schedule for Marishiten Goenbi (I no Hi) celebration, which shows the months and each day on the schedule in chronological order. (from Tokudai Temple’s website here)

This year, people can access certain temples to pray to Marishiten. Just about a month ago, the Yakuri Temple⁹ (located in Takamatsu City, Kagawa Prefecture) made headlines across media outlets in Japan, for that temple’s Marishiten statue was unveiled to the public for the 1st time. There are also special days for prayer and worship called “Marishiten Goenbi¹⁰”, that take place at Tokudai Temple¹¹ (located in Ueno, Taitōku District of Tokyo). This is in connection to “I no Hi¹²”, or “Day of the Boar”, which is directly related to this year’s Zodiac being that of the boar (or otherwise known as the pig outside of Japan), and Marishiten’s utilization of boars in the images rectified of her.

CLOSING

As a whole, Marishiten is a guardian figure with a long history. Over the generations, many groups have found reasons to associate themselves to her for the sake of receiving different types of blessings through worship. This year is especially important due to the Lunar calendar falling on the year of the boar. If you look at it, Marishiten is for everyone when it comes down to asking for blessings, and this point is certainly being acted upon in Japan this year.


1) Original writing of the name is Marici.

2) While the prevailing image is that of a female in Japan, Marishiten is also described as being a male in other countries.

3) A guardian boar is written as “koma-inoshishi” (狛猪)

4) In Japanese the word “kagerō” (陽炎) is used to describe this.

5) 楠正成

6) 島津義弘

7) 徳川家康

8) 三天. This is made up of the following deities: Marishiten, Benzaiten, and Daikokuten.

9) 八栗寺

10) 摩利支天御縁日

11) 徳大寺

12) 亥の日

2019: Year of the Pig (Boar)

chinese new year pig

Illustration by Vecteezy

As many have heard by now, 2019 is the year of the pig according to the Chinese Zodiac calendar. A topic generally filled with auspicious predictions and deep meanings, I’ve follow the Chinese Zodiac for as long as a I can remember, for there is a lot to learn for anyone who’s interested in Asian culture and traditional/ancient practices. This time around, will pretty be much the same. For this post, I will cover the particulars regarding the pig sign, from its meaning, how it is used generally and systematically, as well as the standard prediction for this year. On top of this, I will also talk about how this year’s Zodiac sign and outlook is viewed in Japan, as there are some slight differences that should be pointed out.

IMAGE AND PREDICTIONS

Although it’s the new year, the Chinese calendar officially starts from Feb. 5th. From that date will communities that observe this change in the Zodiac year celebrate.

In Chinese culture, the pig represents wealth. In the past, where living conditions were very vast between commoners and nobility, those wealthy and living in healthy conditions were bigger in size. Thus, the chubby cheeks and big ears of the pig is symbolic of wealth.

According to the pig sign, great fortune is the outlook for 2019. While some sources say that it’ll be a lucky year for everyone, those born under the pig sign will have a rough year. To avoid downfalls, they will need to not overexert themselves; stress and troublesome matters are unavoidable, but the key point in handling these are to accept them but not get too caught up on them in order to move on. Taking part in others’ happy occasions in order to benefit from their luck is also advised.

Financially, predictions state it will be a prosperous year, both in earnings and savings. Along with this, much benefits can be obtained through establishing good relations with others. Overall, should be joyful year, and easy to attract successful relationships and friendships.

THE WORKINGS OF THE CHINESE CALENDAR

Now, for the technical aspect of this post. As mentioned before in previous posts on the same topic, such as “2017, Zodiac Calendars, and Roosters“, there are 2 components significant for the Chinese Calendar, which are the 10 Heavenly Stems and 12 Animal Zodiacs (also called the 12 Earthly Branches due to association). Here’s some important points to keep in mind:

  • This year marks the last stage of the 12-year zodiac cycle
  • Also the 60th year in 60-year cycle that incorporates the combination of both the 12 Animal Zodiac signs + 10 Heavenly Stems.
  • The important components for this Zodiac year are in the label “earth-pig”, which is written as 己亥 and pronounced as “Tsuchi no to-I²” in Japanese. Based on the number of days in a given year, as well as how the years total up, we get this combination of Tsuchi no to (from the 10 Heavenly Stems) and I (pig sign from the 12 Zodiac signs).

According to the 10 Heavenly Stems, Tsuchi no to is an earth element of the dark energy¹. The single syllable I (pronounced like the letter “e”) is another pronunciation for the Zodiac symbol for pig. In actuality, it did not mean pig in its original conception; from ancient times, this symbol was a hieroglyph for “creature”, and is used in the makeup of certain kanji with the nuance of skeletal structure or shell. Outside of that, this symbol is used with the rest of Zodiac sign in ancient measuring and dating systems. Here are a few examples of what the pig sign represents in these different systems below:

  • Time = from 9 to 11 pm
  • Direction = north-northwest (330°)
  • Month = October
  • Energy = dark (ying)
  • Element = water

Based on auspicious beliefs regarding the yearly element being earth and the pig sign being a natural water element, it is said that this year will be especially beneficial to plants and flowers. This is due to the symbolism of earth and water being essential for growth of plant life, thus why it is predicted they will easily grow plentiful. If this is the case, we can take advantage of this for the sake of our environment, as well as for our homes (for those with a green thumb), and for business.

DIFFERENCES IN JAPAN

While throughout Asian (as well as in the West due to China’s influences) this year’s animal sign is viewed as a pig, only in Japan is this particular sign labeled as a boar. The differences lies in lifestyle and cultural viewpoints during ancient times.

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Illustration from frame-illust.com

For example, the kanji used throughout Asia to state “year of the pig” is “猪年³”. Japan also uses the same kanji, but there it is read “year of the boar”. This difference in animal is found in the character “猪”. In Chinese, the character for pig is “猪”, but in Japan it is read as “boar”. Interesting, boar is written as “野猪” in China, which has a literal translation of “wild pig”. Whereas pig is written with the character “豚” in Japan. This could be a case of linguistic differences based on the development of the Japanese language and culture throughout the generations, for Japan steered away from following suit in using the characters for both boar and pig are distinguished set forth by China.

Another simple explanation could be the role boars played hundreds of years ago during the period when the hunting culture was at its peak in Japan. Boars roamed freely in the fields, and were seen as formidable animals as they were very alert and would attack anything (including people) when felt threatened. One could say that the strength of a boar’s head-on charge was respectable even by hunters, and this influenced the use of imagery to describe characteristics in humans liken to the boar, such as “chototsu mōshin⁴” (head straight towards one’s goal), “choyū⁵” (unwavering bravery), and “ikubi⁶” (a person with a short neck like a boar).

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Pic of “inochi mochi”, which is red bean filled mochi treats the shape of little boars.

This value of the boar goes even further through a few traditional practices and beliefs. For starters, there’s an ancient belief that the meat of a boar was medicinal and could help cure all types of illnesses. There is also a celebration in the western part of Japan called “Inochi no Hi⁷”. Taking place on October 1st (according an older calendar system once prevalent in Japan), townfolks would consume a mochi treat called “inochi mochi⁸”, which was shaped like a boar. This is usually eaten around 10 pm on the day, as a means to pray for such things like good health and prosperity for future descendants. Both practices are synonymous to the phrase “mubyōsokusai⁹”, which means to be free of illnesses and bad fortune.

BEGINNING OF THE END?!?

Here ends my little coverage on the Chinese Zodiac calendar and the sign of the pig for 2019. While trying to understand all the specifics, terminologies, and workings of this can seem daunting, in the long run it can be fun and informative. Let’s all look ahead and strive for a rich, healthy, and prosperous year!

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Free illustration by dak


1) The 10 Heavenly Stems, which is written as 十干 in Chinese characters (pronounced jikkan in Japanese), is made up of 10 hieroglyphs. Over the generations, they served various purposes, but in recent times are primarily used, in conjunction with the 12 Earthly Branches, as a system for keeping track of the 60-year cycle of the Zodiac calendar. These 10 hieroglyphs work with the 5 elements (earth, water, fire, wood, and earth) and ying-yang theory. This unique system categorizes 2 of the hieroglyphs sharing one of the 5 elements, with one being attached to light energy and the other dark energy.

2) Can also be pronounced as “ki-gai”.

3) Pronounced “inoshishi-doshi” in Japanese.

4) 猪突猛進

5) 猪勇

6) 猪首

7) 亥の子の日. Meaning “day of the boar”, it is also a play on words, for “inochi” sounds like another word that means “life”.

8) 亥の子餅. Means “day of the boar mochi”.

9) 無病息災

Kiju: Rejoice a Long Life

I recently learned from my wife, who is Japanese, that her parents will be celebrating reaching the age of 77 this summer. Outside of their birthdays, reaching 77 years in one’s lifetime is a special occasion, one that is called “Kiju” in Japanese. As this was new to me, I spent time researching this topic, as its history and concept intrigued me. Today, I will share with everyone this custom of celebrating longevity.

The word Kiju, which is written as “喜寿” in Japanese, has a unique meaning, which is “celebration of happiness”. The choosing of the character to represent the number 77 is not random, for it is culture-related, as well as literacy-related. Let’s go first into the history of Kiju, then move on to its unique theory, as well how it is treated as a celebration.

LIFE OF LONGEVITY

Kiju is the recognition of living a long life. It is part of a list of age ranges/years of living¹ that are revered as representing a life of longevity called “Chōju²”. The practice of Chōju is old, although the different ages were added over time, one as recent as the 21st century. The age ranges, along with their names and meanings, recognized under Chōju are the following³:

60 = Kanreki (還暦)

66 = Rokuju (緑寿)⁴

70 = Koki (古希)

77 = Kiju (喜寿)

80 = Sanju (傘寿)

88 = Beiju (米寿)

90 = Sotsuju (卒寿)

99 = Hakuju (白寿)

100 = Momoju/Kiju (百寿/紀寿)

108 = Chaju (茶寿)

111 = Kōju (皇寿)

120 = Daikanreki (大還暦)

As with Kiju, these numbers and the characters associated to them are not random, for they each have special meanings and methodologies in remembering what they mean. Since the life expectancy was generally lower than 60 due to the lack of nutrition and vaccination, as well as hard life conditions during medieval Japan, much praise and an expression of good fortune is acknowledged to those who did live 60 years & up.

MEANING OF KIJU

As mentioned earlier, Kiju stands for the celebration of happiness. The kanji (Chinese-derived characters) that is pronounced “ki” stands for “happiness⁵”. Interestingly, it is also the representative of the number “77”, at least in this case. When the numerical numbers are written in kanji, it looks like so:

The characters for 77, which are pronounced “nana-ju-nana” in Japanese.

Inspiration of the use of the kanji “ki” was from how it was written in the past, which was more cursive. The 2 pics below depict the character “ki”, with the first one written in textbook block style called “kyōkashotai”, and the second in the older cursive style called “sōshotai⁶”:

If you look carefully, it looks like it is made up of the numbers “七十七”, which would be like so:

The visual imagery of 七十七 (the characters for 77) in the cursive-written style of the character “ki”.

It’s a bit of a stretch to actually “see” those numbers, especially since the character “ki” is not written as so anyway, but this is what influences the use of this character to represent 77 years, along with the meaning.

COLOR OF KIJU

As most things in Asian culture, there are colors associated to each of the age ranges in Chōju. For Kiju, it is the color purple. In the past, it was traditional to wear a sleeveless vest or kimono jacket called chanchanko⁷, along with a special bōshi (hat)⁸. As Kiju would be the theme, this vest and hat would be the color purple. Other items and accessories, such as a sensu (folding fan)⁹, zabuton (pillow)¹⁰, and kozuchi (small wooden mallet)¹¹ would also accompany one’s outfit. You can also adorn yourself in regular clothing that are purple.

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Illustration of the celebration of Kiju, with the couple dressed for the occasion. By acworks (free).

CELEBRATING THE OCCASION

There is no set date for Kiju, so people can choose anytime within the year to celebrate, whether it be on their birthday, on “Keiro no Hi¹²”, and so on. Usually family members and friends will have a small gathering or meetup where they celebrate those who are 77 years of age while eating a nice meal. Other means of celebration can also include taking a small trip, going to the onsen (public bath house)¹³, and so on. A family celebration is planned this summer for my parents-in-law, but they also have another Kiju-related celebration planned amongst them and their classmates from elementary school. Talk about keeping in touch!

Gift giving is generally not associated with Kiju, or Chōju as a whole for that matter. However, there are some businesses and on-line services that try to promote their products as gifts for the occassion. This ranges from flowers, cards with warm wishes, to portraits & pictures.

ENDING

I hope my parents-in law continue to stay healthy pass their 77th birthdays. We should honor all those who are 77 years old and wish them many happy blessings. Kiju has a positive meaning to it, and I hope I too can live long enough to reach this age. Special thanks to my wife contributing the written characters with her calligraphy skills!


1) There are 2 ways to observe Chōjū: kazoedoshi (数え年) and mannenrei (満年齢). Kazoedoshi is a traditional East Asian method for counting age by first considering a newborn 1 years old, then adding one more year on the following new years day. This essentually makes you 1 year older than you actually are. On the other hand, mannenrei is in line with how age is calculated in Western countries, where a newborn’s 1st birthday is 12 months after the day he/she is born.

In the past, kazoedoshi was the primary way to celebrate Chōju, but in modern times mannenrei is the chosen way.

2) 長寿. Chōju is believed to have started sometime during the Muromachi period (1336~1573) with the ages 60, 70, 77, and 88. Over time, more ages were incorporated.

3) The numbers presented for one’s age in Chōju follows that of mannenrei (exact age). If under kazoedoshi (added years) , then you would need to subtract one year from your actual age accordingly to get the “traditional” age.

4) Rokuju is a new addition to Chōju, as it was established in September of 2009 by the Japan Department Store Association (日本百貨店協会).

5) Depending on context, it can stand for “happiness”, “pleasant”, “rejoice”, and so on. Usually the kunyomi (Japanese phonetic) of this word is used, which is “yorokobu”. Basically, it is used to express when something is good for you or someone, or if you are expressing joy over something.

6) 草書体. This is a cursive, script-like style of writing kanji. Often translated as “grass” kanji. A much older, artistic style of writing, nowadays practiced by those learning Shodō (書道, Japanese calligraphy).

7) ちゃんちゃんこ. A sleeveless haori (羽織, short jacket), this type of upper wear was traditionally good for while being active due to its lightweight, or to stay warm during wintertime as an innerwear under a heavier coat.

8) 帽子

9) 扇子

10) 座布団

11) 小槌

12) 敬老の日. Annually recognized on the 3rd Monday of September, it is a special day that honors the elderly and encourages the nation to give respect to them.

13) 温泉