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.
A year was divided into 24 solar terms on the traditional Japanese calendar. Geshi (夏至) literally meannig “to reach summer” is the 10th solar term. It usually begins around June 21st, the longest day of the year when the Sun is farthest north in the northern hemisphere and Sun gets the highest meridian altitude. As the axis of the Earth declines 23.5 degrees towards or away from the Sun ecliptic, the meridian altitude of the Sun differs from season to season. It is this declination that creates seasonal changes on the Earth.
The summer solstice marks the first day of the summer. Different from the winter solstice, there are relatively few social activities held in Japan. Farmers usually start rice planting on the day of Han-geshi, the 11th day from the summer solstice. In the Kansai region, people eat octopus on this day in hope that the roots of rice plants will grow steadily like octopus legs. In Sanuki area in Kagawa Prefecture, July 2nd is Day of Sanuki-udon Noodle, because farmers usually entertain assistant workers with Sanuki-udon noodles after rice planting.
A year was divided into 24 solar terms on the traditional Japanese calendar.
Usui is (雨水) literally meannig “rain water” is the 2nd term. It usually begins around February 19, the time when the rain changes to snow and when the Sun is exactly at the celestial longitude of 330°. In the Koyomi Binran (the Handbook of Japanese Calendar) published in the Edo period, it is written that the air gets warm and snow melts into rain water on this day.
Usui falls on the latter half of the month of tiger on the Junishi (zodiac animals) calendar. As the character representing tiger in old writing system was 寅, and it resembles 演 meaning “performing,” Usui is considered to be the time to perform something to express one’s own assertion, which arose in the previous month of Risshun.
In some parts of the country, the first strong south wind of the year blows and Japanese nightingales begin to sing. Farmers start preparing for their agricultural work around this day.
A year was divided into 24 solar terms on the traditional Japanese calendar. Rikka is the 7th solar term. Rikka (立夏) literally means the beginning of summer. It usually begins around May 6th, when the Sun reaches the celestial longitude of 45°. The terms from this day to the beginning of Risshu are considered as summer in Japan. It is just between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. It is the season of fresh green. It is when wheat come into ear in the Kyushu region, farmers begin seeding of potatoes and peas in Hokkaido, rice planting begin all over the country, frogs start croaking on the paths between rice fields, and Koinobori (carp streamers) are flying in fresh bleeze.
It is also the season when people enjoy aoutdoor activities because there is a long spell of fine weather and gentle winds. The sunlight gets stronger little by little tward the day of Taisho (Large Heat).
A year was divided into 24 solar terms on the traditional Japanese calendar. Shubun, or Autumnal Equinox, is the 16th solar term. It usually begins around September 23rd, when the Sun reaches the celestial longitude of 180°. Autumnal equinox in astronomy is the moment when the Sun is at the equinoxtical point. Night and day are of nearly the same length at an equinox both in spring and autumn.
Spring and Autunmal Equinoxes are national holidays in Japan, for people hold a memorial service for their ancestors and dear deprted family members on these days. Originally, the autumnal equinox was the day to hold a Shinto ritual to thank the god for rich harvest and return the god to the mountain, who had came down to the village to guard the harvest. With the spread of Buddhism, it took on the meaning of service for one’s ancestors’ souls.
Since autunmal equinox became Imperial Memorial Day in the Meiji period (1868-1912), it became the custom for general people,too, to hold a memorial service on this day.