Written by Monami I
Japan's Seasons In Photos: September - Full Moon And Chrysanthemums
September marks the beginning of the fall season. It's the month of the Harvest Moon Festival and of chrysanthemums, flowers that have a very special significance in Japanese culture.
September - The Beginning of the Fall Season
September is the first month of fall in Japan. In expectation of the harvest season, this is the time of the year when, traditionally, people pray for good crops.
The symbols of September are the full moon, pampas grass, and chrysanthemums. Visit any supermarket or shopping street in September, and you'll encounter these auspicious motifs all around.
Otsukimi - Harvest Moon Festival
Fall in Japan begins with the Harvest Moon Festival (Otsukimi), which usually takes place around the middle of the month.
It is believed that the full moon in September is the biggest and most beautiful throughout the year. In the past, people used to gather on the night of the full moon and treat themselves to special dishes and sake while gazing at the moon.
There is a traditional custom of placing dango (glutinous rice cakes) and susuki (pampas grass) in front of the house altar on the night of the Harvest Moon. This is an offering to the gods that symbolizes the prayer for a good harvest.
Around the day of the Harvest Moon, confectionery shops in Japan sell moon-themed sweets.
A moon-themed dorayaki...
Moon-themed dry confectionery...
Or moon-themed dango.
You may wonder what's with all those bunnies. In Japanese culture, the pattern on the Moon's surface evokes the image of rabbits that live on the Moon, keeping themselves busy with making mochi (glutinous rice). This is why, in Japan, the full moon always conjures the image of rabbits.
Susuki - Fields of Golden Pampas Grass
Pampas grass, called susuki, is fully grown and in bloom in September. The fields of susuki glow like gold under sunlight, creating a breathtaking view.
Going out for a walk in a susuki field is just as popular as viewing the cherry blossoms in spring or the red leaves in the fall. The Sengokuhara Fields in Hakone are a particularly famous destination for susuki viewing near Tokyo.
The heads of the susuki grass resemble the heads of the rice plant and wheat. This is why it is used as a symbolic replacement for rice in the offerings for the Harvest Moon Festival. Susuki in full bloom is a sign of the approaching harvest season.
Chrysanthemums - The Iconic September Flowers
September was the month when chrysanthemums bloomed, according to the lunar calendar. This association is still alive, although the peak of the chrysanthemums' bloom is in October now, in the current solar calendar.
September 9 is a very special day in traditional Japanese culture, called Choyo no sekku. It marks the beginning of the fall season in the lunar calendar. This day used to be observed through gatherings where participants exchanged sake cups with chrysanthemum petals floating in them.
The chrysanthemum is associated with longevity, that is why it is considered auspicious to drink sake with chrysanthemum petals at Choyo no sekku.
When talking about the significance of chrysanthemum flowers in Japanese culture, we cannot omit to mention that the Japanese Imperial crest is shaped like a chrysanthemum. You'll find this symbol at any shrine associated with the Imperial family such as Meiji Jingu Shrine.
Chrysanthemum-shaped sweets are one of the delights of September.
You'll also spot these flowers on kimonos worn in September.
One of the joys of wearing a kimono in Japan is choosing a pattern that reflects the season. And if you wear a kimono in September, it has to have a pattern of chrysanthemums.
Chrysanthemums are very loved in Japan, and festivals dedicated to these flowers are usually held at the end of September-beginning of October. Do join one if you have the chance and marvel at the splendid chrysanthemums that are cultivated with utmost care by professional gardeners. Their beauty is really a sight to behold.