Monday, 18 March 2013

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.


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