Self Learns Something New Every Day: Japan’s Lunar Calendar

A few days ago, bulky package arrived in the mail from Florida. Self thought it might be one of son’s mysterious eBay purchases, which have been arriving every few days for the last few weeks. But this one turned out to be a book on Japanese Women Poets, edited by Hiroaki Sato. Inserted in the book was a request for a review from Multicultural Review. Oh, joy! Self loves being given books to review.

So, let’s see, the review isn’t due until January, which is good. Early this morning, just before self makes coffee, but after self’s already made a circuit of the backyard with Gracie, self cracks open the book and begins reading the Introduction. And there she finds an explanation of how the Japanese lunar calendar (in effect until the 1870s) differed from the solar calendar. It wasn’t only that each month was made up of 29 or 30 days: in the solar calendar, the spring begins in March while in the lunar calendar, spring begins in First Month. And here are the names that the Japanese gave for each month of the lunar calendar year:

First Month (Mutsuki): Intimate Month

    The name is said to reflect the tendency of people to get together and become mutsumaji, “intimate,” during the New Year festivities.

Second Month (Kisaragi): Clothes Doubled

    With the word consisting of ki (clothes) and saragi (wearing more), it tells you that the lingering cold can sometimes force you to wear more clothes.

Third Month (Yayoi): More Growth

    The name is thought to derive from iyaoi, “irrepressible growth,” in reference to the time of year when the growth of plants becomes ever more pronounced.

Fourth Month (Uzuki): Deutzia Month

    The shrub with white flowers called unohana or utsugi (Deutzia crenata) flourishes during this month.

Fifth Month (Satsuki): Seedling Month

    Some say satsuki is an abbreviation of sanaetsuki, “rice-seedling month,” and some that it is that of samidare-tsuki, “rainy-season month,” although . . . the midare in samidare means “water-dripping.”

Sixth Month (Minazuki): Waterless Month

    Japan’s rainy season, which lasts for about thirty days, is followed by hot, sun-drenched days during this month, hence the name.

Seventh Month (Fumizuki): Letter Month

    The seventh day of Seventh Month is Tanabata, Japan’s star festival when the once-a-year meeting is allowed to take place between the Princess Weaver (Vega) and the Oxherd (Altair) across the River of Heaven (the Milky Way). On this day freshly cut bamboo is “adorned with numerous pieces of gaily colored paper: neat strips which twirl on a thread, and which, closer inspection will show, are covered with inscriptions, poems in fact.”

Eighth Month (Hazuki): Leaf Month

    The tanka poet Fujiwara no Kiyosuke (1104-1177) says in his treatise on poetics, Ogisho, that the name derives from the fact that during the month tree leaves turn color and fall.

Ninth Month (Nagatsuki): Long Month

    Nights become longer during the month, hence the name.

Tenth Month (Kannazuki): Godless Month

    ” . . . the name may derive from the fact that there is no shrine festival this month.”

Eleventh Month (Shimotsuki): Frost Month
Self-explanatory, but here’s a line from a poet named Watanabe Kazuko on the month: Frost Month: I dry a napkin soaked with tea puckeriness (Shimotsuki ya chishabu shimitaru fukin hosu).

Twelfth Month (Shiwasu): Priests’ Run

    So called because during the last month of the year even monks and priests, who are supposed to maintain transcendental calm, are forced to run about to take care of unfinished business and chores.

Fascinating, just fascinating.

1 Comment

  1. chancelucky said,

    December 7, 2007 at 10:19 pm

    Wow, what an evocative calendar system. It definitely makes more sense to start the year with spring rather than the middle of the winter. I’ve never been quite sure why January 1 is January 1 in our calendar system. It’s not an equinox. In most places it’s cold and rainy. Maybe some Pope got paid off or something.


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