This character means the season called autumn. The same in antiquity as now, its characteristic, the harvest is which is reflected in the grain-classifier. The part of the character apart from the left part shows the burning of harmful insects.
In the original character form, the fire is positioned below. It is the most effective position for exposing the larvae or insect’s eggs to fire. The original character form can be seen for the first time in the tortoise plastron and bone characters. The proper original character has the 灬 four dots fire element below the 龜 ‘insect’ of 龝 but has now come to be called ‘variant character’ (with a nuance of abnormality). Nevertheless, it shows the original meaning of the character more clearly. From the present Common Use Kanji 秋 the mutual relation of the character elements cannot be correctly understood. It has become an abbreviation which completely excludes the fire’s role of burning harmful insects. In the original character the four dots fire element is appropriately positioned below the character element representing the insect. Agriculture had already considerably developed in the Yīn (Shāng) period, and ashes and excrements were already used as manure. Rice stem borers and locusts could not be ignored. As grown insects easily flee, the fire most probably was rather directed at the larvae adhering to the rice plants or crops. The original character form also conveys a certain symbolic meaning as, there seems to have been a profound relationship to a seasonal ritual.
Nishimura Kagura, or also called Mugi (Wheat) Kagura, has been passed down in the Nishimura area on Oki-Dogo Island, Shimane Prefecture. It is designated as an intangible folk cultural property by the town of Okinoshima.
Nishimura Kagura used to be performed on June 4 on the old calendar, when each family of the village brought 1 go (about 150g) of wheat to the shrine and invited 3 Shake families (hereditary kagura dance performing families) from 3 areas on the island and asked them to dedicate the kagura dances.
However, Nishimura Kagura was handed down to the people in the Nishimura area from the Murakami Shake family, the successor of this kagura in the Togo area, in 1950. Since then it has been performed by the people in Nishimura in August, when many family members return home for the bon rituals.
Today, the Nishimura Kagura Preservation Society has been organized by volunteers and shrine priests to pass down a variety of distinctive plays to the future generations.
The Kensen Ritual is performed on September 9 to 10 every year at Kashima Shrine in the Yonekura area in Osaki City, the rice producing center of Miyagi Prefecture, where famous rice brands such as Sasanishiki and Hitomebore were born.
Kensen is a Shinto ritual of offering food to the god. It is performed before a shrine priest offers a prayer. As the oldest and most historic shrine in Osaki City, this ritual had been performed by the descendants of the vassals of the Osaki clan (a branch of the Ashikaga clan, who were descended from Seiwa Genji) until the end of World War II. Today it is performed by the hands of local people.
On the first day, the first rice ear of the season is offered to the god in appreciation for a rich harvest. Then, it is followed by other rites and ends with Naorai (banquet), in which holy sake wine and votive offerings are served to the participants. The finale of the festival is the parade of Mikoshi performed on the second day. This solemn ritual is prefecturally designated as an intangible folk cultural property (manners and customs).
Horowasan Shimotsuki Kagura Dance is a Shinto ritual handed down at Haushiwake Shrine in Yokote City, Akita Prefecture. It is performed on November 7 and 8 every year to appreciate a good harvest of the year and to pray for bumper crops in the coming year. It is nationally designated as an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property.
As the relevant documents were lost in fires caused by battles, the origin of this ritual is not known. From the existing oldest record written in 1590, it is presumed that it had been already performed in the Middle Ages. The feature of this kagura dance is the Yudate-kagura (the boiling water ritual), by which dancers purify themselves many times during the performance.
It is performed by the shrine priests of nearby shrines, who gather at the Kagura Hall located in the chief shrine priest’s premise. All the dancers are either shrine priests or the members of priests’ families. This kagura dance is purely a Shinto ritual, which has been solemnly handed down for a long period of time.
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.
A year was divided into 24 solar terms on the traditional Japanese calendar. Kanro is the 17th solar term. It usually begins around October 8th, when the Sun reaches the celestial longitude of 195°.
Kanro (寒露) literally means “cold dew.” In this season, dew starts to freeze as the air gets colder and colder. It is the time when geese and other winter birds com flying, chrithantumum come into flower, clickets and other autumn insects start singing, leaves turn red or yellow, rice reaping is finished, and biting north winds begin to blow. In the Koyomi Binran (the Handbook of Japanese Calendar) published in the Edo period, it is written that it gets so cold that dew is formed by cold air.
The words concerning food such as Japanese raddish pickles, potatoe stew party, or rice reaping are used as the season words indicating Kanro for haiku poems. Kanro is the season that has close connection with people’s dietary life.
Nagatsuki is a Japanese traditional name for September on the old calendar. The word is however used for September on the new calendar today. It falls on the period from October through November on the new calendar.
There are a lot of theories as to its origin. Some of them state that it is a shortened form of Yonaga-tsuki (a long night month), a pun for Nagame-tsuki (a long rain month) or a pun for Nagori no tsuki, which means a month when a remnant of the full moon can be seen. Still another states that as it is the month for rice harvest and the 長 character has the meaning of swelling, people named the month to cerebrate the swollen ears of rice plants. September on the old calendar is also called Nezametsuki, which means a month of waking up in the morning.
September 1st is the National Disaster Prevention Day, when disaster-preparedness drills are conducted all over the country. The day was established to mark Great Kanto Earthquake, which attacked Japan on this day in 1923. The national holidays in September are Aged People’s Day on the 3rd Monday and Autumnal Equinox Day on the 23rd.
A mikoshi is a type of portable float that the divine spirits of Shinto gods temporarily inhabit when they are transferred from one shrine to another or taken outside during shrine festivals.
Most mikoshi are in the shape of a miniature shrine. Also there are mikoshi shaped as sacred trees, phallic-shaped ones, or ones with figures on them. Usually a mikoshi weighs about 1 ton, with larger ones weighing about 2 tons or more.
The origin of these shrines is the altar made for harvest festivals, when pre-historic peoples of Japan lived as hunter-gatherers. After people settled and started to live by agriculture, shrines became the place where the gods settled. Later, the mikoshi became the vehicle for the Shinto gods, and took the well-known shape it has today.
It is believed that mikoshi spread all over the country around the Heian period, along with the belief in the divine spirits of the Shinto gods.