I shall introduce an easily approachable character from nature here. Originally, 'tide' was a character combining 水 'water,' 艸 'grass' and 日 'sun' only; the 'moon' was added later. Above and below the sun are the pictograms for grass. There are also forms for this character with inverse sides. The moon was added for the first time in the Tenbun (Zhuan Wen) seal script.
In antiquity, the characters for celestial bodies such as the sun and the moon had a dot in the middle (there are exceptions), which we can see in 日 (sun, day). The dot also distinguishes ○ 'gem' (of 環) from 日, which would otherwise have been written the same. (In poetic language, the sun, moon and stars were often compared to gems. This is also the case in the Zhuang Zi).
In ancient Chinese characters (carved on tortoise plastron and oracle bones and bronze vessels), the character for 'moon' does not appear. This, of course, does not mean that people then were not interested in the moon. Probably, there was not yet an understanding of the moon's relation to the earth's gravity and tides.
The special thought and attention in Japan to the moon can be understood and is seen in Heian literature like the 'Hyakuninisshu: The Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets.' Inclination to the moon in ancient China also is conspicuous. The character 望 engraved on bronze vessels shows that a month was divided into four weeks. Although there was no scientific discovery of gravity, this character shows not only the inclination to the moon, but also bears a relation to calm astronomical observation of the atmosphere and the clouds.
Abeno Seimei is a legendary figure known as the master of Onmyoudou, a traditional esoteric cosmology based on Chinese Five Elements and Yin and Yang. His portrait appeared in Konjyaku Monogatari (stories, modern and ancient) in Heian Period and Ujishuui Monogatari in Kamakura Period. His legendary stories have also been passed down in a number of Kabuki and Bungaku plays.
Much of his birth and life remain a mystery. It is said that since childhood he had the power to see mysterious phenomena. Later he studied under Kamono Tadayuki, a master of Yin and Yang philosophy, and voraciously absorbed knowledge of astrology, the calendar and divination. It is said he was able to manipulate the soul, metamorphosing freely, called “Shikigami”, cure the sick and was even able to master the power to bring rain. Above all, his characteristics are said to come from his ability to read space-time and decipher secrets of the calendar. He wrote some guide books including “Senji-ryakketsu”, which theorize the relationship between Chinese Five Elements and divination.
Seimei lived until he was 85 years old which was quite rare at that time. After his death, his descendants became known as Tsuchimikado Clan and retained the political power behind the history. Even today, Abe Seimei fascinates people and Abe Seimei Shrine in Kyoto, a shrine dedicated to him, attracts many visitors.
Rittou is one of the twenty four solar terms which divides a year into twenty four periods. Rittou refers to November 7th or 8th. Using the moon as a reference autumn is still in full swing, however, people in ancient times regarded that winter began on Rittou.
The twenty four solar terms has been used since ancient times as a reference standard for describing the seasons since Japan adopted the lunar calendar.
Starting from Risshun (the beginning of Spring), until Daikan (Severe Cold), each of the four seasons are further divided into six solar terms.
Rittou indicates the arrival of winter as well as that winter has already begun.
The twenty four solar terms was well suited to Japan where the seasons have rather distinct beginnings and endings, but perhaps more to the point, people in old days lived a more agrarian life and could feel the subtle changing of the seasons. They must have sensed and respected the gentle flow of time that harmonizes them with the passing seasons.
Slow down your life a little and you will appreciate the subtle changing of seasons through twenty-four solar terms.
After Rittou, arrives Shousetsu (Light Snow). Soon the snow starts falling.
Minazuki is a Japanese traditional name for June on the old calendar. Minazuki (水無月) literally means “a waterless month.” According to the lunar calendar, it falls on the period around the end of the rainy season; thus it means “a month without water.” However, there is another theory that states the 無 character is a particle meaning “of ”and Minazuki is “a month of water,”because it is the time when farmers irrigate a rice field after rice planting. We don’t know whichever is right, but “a month without water” seems to fit more for the image of the rainy season.
In Kyoto, there is a custom to eat Minazuki rice cake, which is made to resemble frozen snow, on June 30 every year. As ice was very precious in the Heian period (794-1192), only the nobilities can have the opportunities to eat ice. Then the commoners ate this rice cake in stead of ice and offered prayers for their good health for the rest of the year.
In late June comes Geshi (summer solstice), when a hot summer begins right after the rainy season has gone.
Hazuki is a Japanese traditional name for August on the old calendar. Hazuki (葉月) literally means “a leaf month.”
There are several theories concerning its origin. One theory states that as it falls on September to October on the Gregorian calendar, it is the month of falling leaves. Another states that it is a pun for “Inagarizuki,” which means the month when ears of rice plants swell, and still another staes that it is a pun for “Harizuki.” August on the lunar calendar is also called “Tsukimi-zuki (a moon-viewing month),” for it is the month when Chushu no meigetsu (a beautifu mid-autumn moon) can be viewed.
In the Tohoku region, a large and famous annual festivals such as Aomori Nebuta Festival (Aug. 2nd-7th), Akita Kanto Festival (Aug. 4th-8th), and Sendai Tanabata Festival are held, and people enjoy short summer
Kannazuki is a Japanese traditional name for October. Kannazuki (神無月) can be translated literally as “the month when there are no gods.” In Shinto tradition it was said that the eight million gods of Japan left their shrines and congregated annually in October at Izumo Taisha Shrine in Shimane Prefecture. In Izumo, by contraries, it is considered trendy to call October “Kamiarizuki,” which means “the month when the gods are present.”
There are still other theories as to its origin, however. The most strongly supported theory is that the 無 character should be a particle meaning “of” and therefore Kannazuki means the month of gods. Another unique theoru staes that it is a pun for Kaminashizuki (雷無月), which literally means the month without thunderstorms.
The day around October 8th is called Kanro (cold dew) and it is said that the year’s’ first dew condensation can be seen on this day. Leaves turn red in the middle of October and the day around October 23rd is called Soko (frost descent), when the year’s first frost covers the ground in the northern part of the nation. As winter draws near, it is getting colder and colder and biting north winds start to blow in this season.
Shimotsuki is a Japanese traditional name for November. Shimotsuki (霜月) literally means “a frost month” because frost is starts to appear in this month. However, according to the different theory, it is said that as this month comes after Kannazuki, it was called “Shimo no tsuki (the following month),” which was later punned into Shimotsuki.
November is also called Shimofuri-tsuki, the frost forming month, Kagura-zuki, the month for Kagura dance to welcome the gods coming back from Izumo, and Yukimachi-zuki, the month to anticipate snow.
The national holidays in November are Culture Day (Nov. 3rd) and Labor Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 23rd), both of which are said to originate in the cerebration ceremonies held to thank gods for rich harvest. On the day of the Tori (Rooster) in Chinese calendar, Tori no Ichi Fairs (open-air market) are held at Otori (eagle) shrines all over the country and many people come to pray for a health, good fortune and good business.
Shiwasu is a Japanese traditional name for December. Shiwasu (師走) literally means “teachers run.” It is a generally accepted interpretation today that everyone gets extremely busy in this month to complete unfinished tasks of the year and prepare for the coming new year including house cleaning and cooking for New Year’s Day. Thus even teachers can’t help running around.
However, the word “Shiwasu” derives from “Shihase-zuki,” which literally means the month when priests visit. In the old days in Japan, December was the time when people held a memorial service for their ancestors just like they do during the Bon period, from which custom it was the month when priests were busy visiting every house of villages or towns.
December is also called Harumachi-zuki, meaning the month to wait for spring, or Kureko-zuki, the year end month. It gets severely cold and quite a few places are attacked by heavy snow. Few plants produce flowers in this month except Camellia sasanqua. Its red flowers add colors to deserted landscapes of the cold winter.