September 9th (9/9) is the last of the yearly sekku (節句) or seasonal holidays in the old Japanese calendar, and is named kiku no sekku (菊の節句) or more formally chōyō (重陽). The name means something like “Day of the Chrysanthemum”, and has its origins in a similar Chinese holiday called the Double Ninth Festival. The formal name chōyō (重陽) is the more Sinified name.
The holiday, as the name implies, is devoted to Chrysanthemum flowers. In Heian Period Japan (8th-11th centuries), the golden age of the Imperial court, it was commonly believed that gathering the morning dew from chrysanthemums on this day, and applied to the face would keep ladies youthful looking. For example, in the famous Pillow Book by lady of the court, Sei Shonagon, she writes:
 … It’s charming when a light rain begins to fall around daybreak on the ninth day of the ninth month, and there should be plenty of dew on the chrysanthemums, so that the cotton wadding that covers them is thoroughly wet, and it brings out the flowers’ scent that imbues it.translation by Meredith McKinney
But medieval Japanese attitudes about chrysanthemums is not limited to female beauty. Sugawara no Michizane, who was later deified as the god of learning, Tenjin, wrote a poem about them:
|秋風の||akikaze no||The autumn breeze|
|吹上に立てる||fukiage ni tateru||rises on the shore at Fukiage|
|白菊は||shirakiku wa||–and those white chrysanthemums|
|花かあらぬか||hana ka aranu ka||are they flowers? or not?|
|浪の寄するか||nami no yosuru ka||or only breakers on the beach?|
Modern day celebrations during Day of the Chrysanthemum still happen at local Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples and such, but compared to more well-known sekku such as Children’s Day or Girl’s Day, September 9th is a pretty low-key day.
Although this is posted a couple days late, hopefully readers will can take a moment to enjoy chrysanthemums and the early fall weather before heading into autumn.