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Chrysanthemum Festival – The Most Important Date on the Calendar:  Chouyo no Sekku

2017.10.21

In October, gardeners and florists in Japan go Chrysanthemum crazy.  There are many festivals, exhibitions and competitions with life-size dolls decorated with just chrysanthemums of different colours and varieties.  This is not only because October is the best season but also because of an important annual celebration.

Chouyo Festival – One of the Five Sekku 

9th September in Lunar Calendar is called Chouyo no Sekku.  It is one of five important dates in the year.  (One of the other festivals, Tango no Sekku, is in the article dated 5th May.)

In the ancient times, odd single numbers were considered lucky so the dates of months that doubles up odd numbers (3rd March, 5th May, 7th July, 9th September and 7th January – as an exception as 1st January is the new year day) were the most important dates.  These dates were also in line with seasonal festivities, and were the occasion of celebrations or of taking a break from routine work, usually agricultural.

In Japan, they are all still important dates, but 9th September is not celebrated as much as the other four.  The reason can be found in the very nature of the celebration.

The Luckiest and Most Important

This festival originally was the most important in China.  In China, odd numbers carry positive powers, and Nine is the luckiest number as it is the largest of single odd numbers.  Chouyo, in fact, means double positive, and the 9th day of the 9th month of the year is the most important, the luckiest date.

The other name of this important day was Chrysanthemum Celebration.  Chrysanthemum in China was and still is, believed to drive away evil spirits.  In practice, the flower is one of the herbal medicines, especially to keep the mind and body youthful.  On the evening of 8th September, a small cloth is placed over a chrysanthemum flower to infuse the fragrance and collect dew overnight.  By cleansing your body with this cloth, people wished for long and healthy lives.

This celebration and the flower travelled across the ocean to Japan in the 9th century.  (It is a notable coincidence!)  It was a rare flower / medicine only available for the noble class.  This is thought to be why the Royal Family’s emblem is Chrysanthemum flowers.  In Chouyo celebrations, Japanese people displayed Chrysanthemums in the house, floated a petal in Sake, sprinkle them on food and put a bunch of the flowers in the bath, all to enjoy the beauty and fragrance of the flower and to feel the divine power.

Because the rituals are so inseparable from this flower, when the calendar changed from lunar to solar system, the 9th September became too early to enjoy the full benefit.  The optimum season for Chrysanthemums is mid-October.  It made celebration on the 9th day of the 9th month very difficult.  Subsequently, the attraction of the festival diminished:  It was gradually combined with the local harvest festivals and lost the original meanings.  One example of this combinations remains in some autumn festivals called Kunchi, which means the Ninth Day, especially famous in Nagasaki.

Favourite Flower of the Gardeners

However, the attractions of the colourful Chrysanthemum never died.  This flower fascinated florists, Ikebana artists, and theatre artists with its distinctive presence.  In the Edo period, 300 years ago, there was a boom in Chrysanthemum growing and breeding.  It became an important part of stage decoration for traditional arts, such as Noh, Kabuki, and Nichibu (Japanese dance).  The popularity led to huge production and availability.  The flower became an integral part of everyday life.

Thanks to this boom, we can enjoy over 300 varieties of the flower in different colours, sizes, and shapes.  There are competitions and festivals of life-size dolls decorated only with chrysanthemums throughout Japan in October.  It is a popular and fascinating autumn day out.

The significance of the flower in Japanese life is rooted to Chouyo no Sekku, and its importance is being revisited recently.  Enjoying a seasonal flower that has decorated Japanese history and tracking it back in time has a quiet appeal to the people of modern society, full of expendable pleasures.

The beauty of this flower, from delicate little ones to dynamic variety with a burst of colours, is worth enjoying in a traditional atmosphere, in the quiet autumn evenings.

 

 

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