Full moon is a lunar phase, in which the hemisphere of the moon facing the earth is fully illuminated by the sun and appears round. A full moon occurs when the geocentric apparent longitudes of the sun and the moon differ by 180 degrees. As the full moon corresponds to an age of about 14.8 days of the synodic month, a night with a full moon is called “Jugoya (the 15th night)” in Japanese.
The appearance of the illuminated portion of the moon as seen by an observer on the earth is called luner phases. The phases designate both the degree to which the moon is illuminated and the geometric appearance of the illuminated part. The moon appears as a new moon when the sun and the moon are on the same sides of the earth, while as a full moon when they are on the opposite side. Between the new moon and the full moon, it appears as the first quarter moon and the last quarter moon, which mean we can see half of the illuminated part. If the moon happens to align exactly with the earth and sun, then we get a lunar eclipse.
As a lunar month is about 29.531 days long, the full moon falls on around the 15th day of the lunar month in the calendars that start the month on the new moon such as Chinese Calendar. However, as there is a margin of error, a full moon does not always occur on the 15th day.
The moon on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month of the lunar calendar (usually around mid- or late-September in the Gregorian calendar), when the moon is at its fullest and brightest, is called “Chushu-no-meigetsu (the fine moon in the mid-autumn)” and people hold the Moon Festival. The full moon seems to symbolize the mysterious beauty and power of the moon.
Hanamaki Festival is held in Hanamaki City, Iwate Prefecture for 3 days centered on the 2nd Saturday in September every year. It originates in the float parade held in 1593 to revere Kita Shosai, the founding father of the town.
The festival features a number of events such as the parade of Furyu-dashi floats, which were originally made of bamboo and represented a whale but later changed its form into a Kyoto-styled Yakata float, and 140 taru-mikoshi (portable shrine made of barrels), and the prefecturally designated intangible cultural property, Deer Dance, which represents the ancient rituals to pray for peace of the town and to get rid of the evils.
The highlight is the Hanamaki-bayashi Dance Parade, in which 1,000 dancers elegantly dance to the Hanamaki-bayashi music, which is modeled on the Gion-bayashi of Kyoto. The pompous mixture of the sounds of large drums, small drums, Japanese flutes and Shamisen enhances the festival mood of the town.
Morioka Autumn Festival serves as the annual festival of Morioka Hachimangu Shrine in Morioka City, Iwate Prefecture. It is held for 3 days from September 14 to 16 every year, and the festival eve events are performed on the 13th.
Morioka Hachimangu was founded about 800 years ago by the Nanbu clan as the guardian god of their castle town of Morioka. The festival dates back to 1709, when a parade of floats was performed to celebrate the completion of all the 23 sub-towns of the castle town. It is said that the parade was composed of 23 floats made by each town.
The float parade has been performed since then and it is now designated as a city’s intangible cultural property. In the Hachiman-kudari parade, all the floats start parading from Hachiman Shrine in the afternoon and go through the town. And in the Dashi-Daiemaki parade in the evening, the gorgeously lit up floats parade through the town again. Also, traditional Yabusame (horseback archery) is held in the shrine precinct.
The front approach of the shrine is lined with night stalls including “yakisoba (Japanese fried noodles),” which is a must for a Japanese “omatsuri.” Listening to Nanbu’s distinctive “Ondo” music played by children on the floats and eating yakisoba; it’s a fantastic way to spend your holiday.
Choyo-no-Shinji and Crow Sumo Wrestling is Shinto rituals performed on September 9 at Kamigamo Shrine, which is famous as the oldest shrine in Kyoto. According to the concept of Yin and Yan, the odd number is the number of Yan (shine). Thus 9 is considered to be the number that Yan reaches to an extreme. As September 9 is the day when the extreme Yan overlaps, it was called Choyo (Double Yan) and was celebrated as the auspicious day since the ancient times. Since September is the blooming season of a chrysanthemum by the lunar calendar, it is also called the Chrysanthemum Festival.
In the old days, people drank chrysanthemum wine and purified themselves with dew on chrysanthemum petals in hope of a long life. Today, people in Kyoto visit Kamigamo Shrine on this day and offer chrysanthemum flowers to the deity and pray for the healthy life.
After the Choyo Shinto rituals are performed‚ a Shinto priest called “Tone” places a bow and arrow and a sword against a cone-shaped hill of sand. He then utters the cry “kaa‚ kaa‚ kaa‚ koo‚ koo‚ koo,” imitating the cawing of crows. After this ritual‚ children, divided into two teams of “Negi-kata (priests)” and “Hori-kata (people who cerebrate),” wrestle each other in matches. The sumo wrestling originates in an ancient Shinto rituals performed in the Heian period (794-1192) and it is designated as an intangible cultural property of Kyoto City. Free chrysanthemum flower sake will be offered that is believed to be effective for healthy longevity.
The annual festival held at Fujisaki Hachimangu Shrine in Kumamoto City is one of the largest festivals in Kumamoto Prefecture. As the shrine of war gods, it was worshipped by warriors since its foundation in 935.
The festival is held for 5 days from the 2nd Thursday in September every year. It is said that the festival originates in a Buddhist ritual of Hojoe, a ceremony in which captive fish and birds are set free to gain religious merit. The climax is the Zuibyo (Retinue Soldiers) Parade held on the last day. Zuibyo Parade originates in the parade of soldiers when Kato Kiyomasa paid a visit to this shrine to attend the rituals of the annual festival that he resumed.
Together with the mikoshi (a portable shrine) parade, more than 60 groups of local people dressed in festival cloths march and chant valiantly “Dokai! Dokai!” while following their elaborately decorated robust horses through the streets of the city.
Katakai Festival serves as the autumn festival of Asahara Shrine in Katakai Town in Ojiya City, Niigata Prefecture. It is a historic festival handed down for 400 years. Held for two days from September 9 to 10 every year, the festival is famous for its impressive fireworks, which are considered contributions to the shrine as offerings to the deities.
During the festival, the shrine performs the rituals such as Tama-okuri, at which a firework's explosive device is presented as an offering to the shrine, and Tsutsu-hiki, at which a tube for launching fireworks is offered to pray for the successful shooting of fireworks.
As the town of Katakai is the birthplace of 3-shaku dama (round fireworks with a circumference of about 90 cm), numerous 3-shaku dama fireworks are gorgeously shot up into the sky during the festival. The 4-shaku dama (120 cm in circumference) fireworks, which create an illumination of 800 meters in diameter in the sky, have also been successfully set off and recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest fireworks in the world.
As many as 15,000 fireworks in total number are displayed during the 2-day festival period. The giant fireworks blooming in the night sky above the town symbolize the pride of pyrotechnists in Katakai.
Yassa Festival is held on September 29 every year at Wakamiya Hachimangu Shrine in Minakami-machi, Gunma Pref. The young men in loincloth run about in the precinct with each of them grabbing another man’s waist belt of the cloth, calling “Yassa, Mossa, Shinjuro!” After hustling and jostling or lying on the ground, they climb up the pillars of the main hall one after another to snatch away the big bell. It is said that if someone can successfully snatch away the bell, good crops of the year is promised. The origin of the festival is unknown but there are several stories about it. One story goes that once upon a time, when the village was damaged by a flood, young villagers saved the lives of victims by roping themselves together. Another story goes that about 400 years ago during the battle of Nagurumi Castle, A warrior named Shinjuro Oki directed the villagers to a safe place by having them grasp his koshi-himo belt. Yassa Festival is a simple but gallant festival with a history of 400 years.
Ori Kagura is a solemn Shinto ritual performed at Kifune Shrine in Ouri in Ohi Village, Miyagi Prefecture. It is designated as a village’s cultural property. Kifune Shrine was founded in 1443 by transferring the deity from Kashiwagi in present Sendai City. Ori Kagura, together with the children mikoshi parade, is dedicated to the deity at the annual festival of the shrine on September 1 on the lunar calendar.
In around 1877, the villagers invited Nanbu Kagura dancers from Iwate Prefecture and Kizaemon Ishikawa and other 8 people learned the kagura dance from them. Following the tradition of the Nanbu Kagura style, the repertoire of Ori Kagura is composed of three categories; Shinmaimono (sacred dances), Gunkimono (military epics) and Dokemono (comical plays).
The shrine was damaged by fire in 1877 and all the utensils of the kagura except masks went up in flames. However the kagura dance was revived in two years by the donation of the local people.