Monday, 18 March 2013

You can't get any more Japanese than Hanafuda - Part Four

Part Four - October, November and December
October (Month of the Gods)
Momiji (Maple)
a.k.a Shika (Deer)

In this month, all of the 8 million Shinto gods leave their provincial shrines to congregate at the Great Shrine in Izumo (Izumo Taisha) (the centre of Shinto religion). Izumo is about 60 miles north of Hiroshima. Like the month of June (‘Mizunazuki’), ‘Kaminazuki’ (October) can be interpreted two ways. It can be read as the ‘month of Gods’ or ‘month without Gods’. In this case, both readings can be correct whether you are in Izumo or not.



October is represented by the changing autumnal colours of the ‘Momiji’ (Maple) leaves. Although, not technically a flower, the brilliant autumn red leaves of the Maple tree are as colourful as any flower. Like many people around the world Japanese enjoy seeking out groves of maple trees turning hillsides brilliant hues of red and yellow. ‘Momijigari’ is the word for maple leaf viewing.

The stag on the Tane (Animal) card represents gentleness. Together with the red Maple, they are a symbol of longevityThis suit is more commonly known as 'Shika' (Deer) in Japan.
November (Frost month)
Yanagi (Willow)
a.k.a Ame (Rain)
November is known as the ‘Yanagi’ (Willow), or more commonly ‘Ame’ (Rain) suit. The Willow tree is a symbol of grace and strength. In China and Japan, the Willow symbolises the traits of an ideal woman and Geisha are often compared to the Willow. The ‘Tsubame’ (Swallow) is often shown with the Willow. They are seen as good companions and are symbols of happiness and harmony. Swallows are often associated with spring but there are species that migrate to spend the winter in Japan.
The other notable figure in the November suit is the man with an umbrella. This man is the famous Heian period calligrapher Ono no Toufuu (Ono no Michikaze is the more formal reading of his name). He is credited with creating a Japanese style of writing Chinese characters. Calligraphy in this case is more than just fancy writing. It was very important to have standard ways of writing, especially when using a writing system as complicated as Chinese. A popular story arose in the Edo period about how he was feeling particularly hopeless one rainy day and considered quitting his study of calligraphy. He stopped by a stream near a Willow tree and saw a small Frog trying to leap to a dangling Willow branch. He watched the Frog leap for the branch, but every time the wind would blow it just out of reach. Finally on the eighth attempt, the Frog clung to the branch. Ono no Tofu was inspired by the perseverance of the Frog, and continued his career to become one of the most famous calligraphers in Japan. There are doubts that the story is true, but it is an inspiring tale nonetheless.
The design of the Lightning/Storm card is somewhat abstract and it depicts the strong storms around this time of year. Typhoons usually arrive in Japan from September until November. The largest storms occur toward the end of the year. The card is filled with lightning and rain. The black and red form the outline of a tornado, or waterspout. Traditionally on the bottom is a large drum symbolising thunder.
December (Priest's Run)
Kiri (Paulownia)
‘Shiwasu’ is the last of the old month names that is commonly used in modern Japan. Since the nation switched to the Gregorian calendar in 1873 the months are only known by a number - month-one, month-two, month-three etc. The end of the solar year and the beginning of the New Year is one of the most important holidays in Japan. It is a very exciting and busy time for everybody, especially the priests. Every new year Japanese visit the Shinto and Buddhist temples to get their blessings for the New Year. The last month of the year is marked by the rushing about of busy priests as they prepare for New Year's Day. If you are in Japan on New Year's Day it will seem like every person in Japan is at their local temple at the stroke of midnight. The Japanese look to the New Year as a chance to shake off all the burdens of the previous year and get a fresh start.
The Phoenix is the symbol of righteousness and often connected with the Empress. It is a representation of the mandate from heaven giving the Emperor the authority to rule. Legend says that only the ‘Kiri’ tree is beautiful enough for the Phoenix to land on.

December is represented by the ‘Kiri’ (Paulownia) plant. The Kiri is the official symbol of the Prime Minister of Japan and of the democratically elected system of government. This was the 'Mon' (symbol) of the Toyotomi clan that ruled over Japan prior to the Edo period.

The most influential figure within the Toyotomi was Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of the three 'unifiers of Japan'. Oda Nobunaga was another primary unifier and the ruler of the Oda clan at the time. Hideyoshi had joined Nobunaga at a young age but was not highly regarded because of his peasant background. Nevertheless, Hideyoshi's increasing influence allowed him to seize a significant degree of power from the Oda clan following Oda Nobunaga's death in 1582. As the virtual ruler of the most of Japan, Hideyoshi created a new clan name 'Toyotomi' in 1584 and achieved the unification of Japan in 1589.

When Hideyoshi died in 1598, his son Toyotomi Hideyori was still an infant. Five regents were appointed to rule until his maturity and conflicts among them began quickly. In 1600, Tokugawa Ieyasu deposed Hideyori and took power after winning the Battle of Sekigahara. In 1614, Hideyori came into conflict with the Tokugawa clan, leading to Tokugawa Ieyasu's Siege of Osaka from 1614 to 1615. As a result of the siege, Hideyori was forced to commit seppuku (ritual suicide). After his death, the Toyotomi clan dissolved, leaving the Tokugawa clan to solidify their rule of Japan.

You can't get any more Japanese than Hanafuda - Part Three

Part Three - July, August and September
July (Book Month)
Hagi (Bush Clover)

The exact meaning of ‘Fumizuki’ is somewhat obscure. Some think that in the lazy days of midsummer, between the planting and harvesting seasons, people had time to write and read letters and poetry. Another theory is that the month was originally ‘Fumuzuki’ which means ‘swollen month’, referring to the swelling rice grains in the fields. This may be another case of ‘Ateji’ distorting the meaning of the name.
July is represented by ‘Hagi’ (Bush Clover) and ‘Inoshishi’ (wild Boar). The Bush Clover is related to the Pea plant and it usually blooms in July through October. Wild Boars are said to like to nest, or sleep in the Bush Clover. Wild Boars are one of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac and are symbols of bravery and affection. However, to villagers in the mountains the boars can be dangerous pests that destroy crops and gardens.
As followers of Buddhism, the Japanese tended not to eat the meat of four legged animals. Fish and birds were acceptable meats to eat. This accounts for some of the unusual classifications of animals in Edo period Japan. Frogs and Lizards were classified as insects, and Rabbits were considered Birds. Accordingly, the wild Boar is sometimes referred to as ‘Yamakujira’ or mountain-Whale, which made it a Fish.
Sometimes the meat of wild Boar was called ‘Botan’ (Peony). The meat of Deer was called ‘Momiji’ (Maple) and that of the Horse was ‘Sakura’ (Cherry blossoms). In this way the pious Buddhists could pretend to eat as vegetarians.
August (leaf month)
Susuki (Pampas Grass)


The name for August, ‘Hazuki’, refers to the changing seasons and the falling leaves. August features the ‘Susuki’ (pampas grass). ‘Tsukimi’, or moon viewing, is the autumnal counterpart to Cherry blossom viewing. Both Cherry blossom viewing and moon viewing are often accompanied by the drinking of Sake, or rice wine. The traditional date for moon viewing is 15 August. In the old solar-lunar calendar the month started and ended with the new moon. The middle of the month would be the full moon. However, because the old calendar started about a month later than our modern calendars, the actual date is closer to 15 September which is nearer to the autumnal equinox.
The autumn moon is also known as the ‘Harvest moon’ or ‘Hunter’s moon’. It is usually described as the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox. That is, the full moon closest to when the day and night are the same length in the autumn. The full moon usually rises close to when the sun is setting. When the moon is full, the sun and moon are on exactly opposite sides of the Earth. When the moon is new, the moon is on the same side of the Earth as the sun, which is why we can't see it at night.
Tsukimi - Moon viewing party
As the year progresses the length of days changes. Days are longer in the summer and shorter in the winter. In the winter the full moon rises after the sun has set. In the summer, the full moon rises before the sun has set. At the equinoxes, the days and nights are exactly the same length. Consequently, the moon is rising in the east at exactly the same time the sun is setting in the west.
It is called the ‘Harvest moon’ or ‘Hunter’s moon’ because people were able to continue working into the night by the light of the full moon without any gap between the setting sun and the rising moon. You will notice that the sky of the moon card is red. This is because the moon is rising at sunset. The card with wild Geese shows the seasonal migration of birds. In the autumn Geese migrate from Siberia and northern China to spend the winter in Japan.
September (Long month)
Kiku (Chrysanthemum)
‘Nagatsuki’, or long month, marks the beginning of autumn when the nights begin to be longer than the days. September is represented by the ‘Kiku’ (Chrysanthemum) blossom.
The sixteen petals of the Kiku is the personal symbol of the Emperor of Japan. The Emperor is said to be descended from ‘Amaterasu’, the Sun goddess. The large yellow blossoms of the chrysanthemum are a fitting symbol for the radiant sun.
Amaterasu Omikami

The Chrysanthemum is also a symbol of longevity because of the long life of the blooms. There is a legend of a place in Japan called Chrysanthemum Mountain. It is said that if you drink from the stream where the petals of the Chrysanthemum fall into the water you will be blessed with long life. The five point card depicts the Kiku next to a stream with a Sake (Rice wine) cup. Inside the wine cup the character for ‘Longevity’ is traditionally written. It was a common tradition to sprinkle Chrysanthemum petals in one's wine and drink them as a way to ensure long life and happiness.