06 September 2023
Embracing Autumn with The Choyo-no-Sekku:
The Beauty of the Chrysanthemum Festival
September in Japan is marked not only by the comfortable climate and the rich harvest but also by a distinct cultural celebration. September 9 is called "Chou-you-no-Sekku," one of the five seasonal festivals in Japan, along with "Tango-no-Sekku," (Boys' Day or Children's Day) and "Tanabata." It is a day when people decorate their surroundings with chrysanthemum flowers and savor sake infused with chrysanthemum petals, hoping for longevity and good health. In this article, we will introduce you to "Choyo-no-Sekku," a festival that beautifully encapsulates the tapestry of Japan's changing season.
- What is Choyo-no-Sekku?
- Choyo-no-Sekku: A Celebration of Chrysanthemums
- Foods for Choyo-no-Sekku
- Embracing Autumn's Shift
What is Choyo-no-Sekku?
September 9th, known as "Choyo-no-Sekku," was introduced from China to Japan in the early Heian period (794 CE – 1185 CE). It spread as a festival signaling the changing of seasons, primarily among the Heian nobility. In China, odd numbers were traditionally seen as auspicious, representing 'Yang days.' Dates where these numbers doubled up, like September 9th or July 7th, were marked as special days of celebration. However, there was also a belief that overlapping odd numbers could bring misfortune, leading to customs to ward off evil spirits. Choyo-no-Sekku has seen a decline in its celebration in recent times with many of its traditions becoming lesser-known. The festival, which used to be celebrated on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month, which is mid-October today, is still held on September 9. This date seems premature when compared to the usual season of chrysanthemum blooming and chestnut harvesting. This misalignment might be one reason why Choyo-no-Sekku is less prominent compared to other seasonal festivals.
Choyo-no-Sekku: A Celebration of Chrysanthemums
According to the lunar calendar, September 9th corresponds to mid-October, when chrysanthemums bloom beautifully. In China, chrysanthemums were believed to have the power to dispel evil spirits. This belief passed to Japan, and during Choyo-no-Sekku, people admired chrysanthemums and drank sake infused with their petals, praying for health and longevity. Starting in the early Heian period in Japan, it became an imperial event where chrysanthemums were admired, and rituals using them to ward off evil were performed. As time went on, it spread among commoners, and by the Edo period, it became one of the five festivals widely celebrated.
Foods for Choyo-no-Sekku
Given that Choyo-no-Sekku is synonymous with the "Chrysanthemum Festival," these flowers play a pivotal role. They not only garnish dishes like sashimi but are also rich in nutrients, making them perfect for salads, stews, and soups. Sweets shaped like chrysanthemum petals or desserts themed around the flower add to the festivity.
Chrysanthemum Sake ("Kikuzake")
For many, the highlight of this festival is the sake infused with chrysanthemum petals, allowing one to relish the blend of the drink's taste with the flower's scent. While this practice isn't as common today, it offers a unique celebratory touch for those who indulge.
Given that the lunar calendar's position signifies the chestnut season, chestnut rice became a staple, symbolizing prayers for a good harvest.
There's a traditional belief that consuming eggplants on days marked by the number nine can ward off specific ailments. Hence, alongside chrysanthemums, eggplants are also consumed for good health.
Customs of Choyo-no-Sekku
Covering Chrysanthemums with Cotton ("Kisewata")
This practice involves covering chrysanthemum flowers with cotton the night before the festival. The next morning, the cotton, now imbued with dew and the scent of chrysanthemums, is used to cleanse one's body, believed to ensure longevity.
The transition from summer to autumn can be a burden on one's health. Chrysanthemums contain an essential oil called camphene, which stimulates the skin, promotes blood circulation, and boosts metabolism. It also hydrates the skin, making it an ancient version of today's herbal bath.
For Choyo-no-Sekku, chrysanthemum petals are thoroughly dried in the sun and stuffed into pillows. The scent is believed to ease fatigue and aid sleep.
These are events where people showcase their cultivated chrysanthemums and compete for beauty. Starting in the Edo period (1603 CE - 1867 CE), these gatherings spread from Edo to other regions, evolving into today's chrysanthemum exhibitions. These exhibitions still take place in various locations nationwide during October, the prime viewing season for chrysanthemums.
Embracing Autumn's Shift
While the prominence of Choyo-no-Sekku has diminished over the years and its customs have faded into the background, its found national spirit endures. Celebrating the shift from summer to autumn and aspiring for healthful days ahead continue to resonate. Using chrysanthemum motifs in the festivities serves as a vibrant reminder and tribute to the essence of this significant day.View Chrysanthemum Motif Collection