Day of the Chrysanthemum in Japan

Photo by saifullah hafeel on

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:

[7] … 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:

JapaneseRomanized JapaneseTranslation
秋風のakikaze noThe autumn breeze
吹上に立てるfukiage ni taterurises on the shore at Fukiage
白菊はshirakiku wa–and those white chrysanthemums
花かあらぬかhana ka aranu kaare they flowers? or not?
浪の寄するかnami no yosuru kaor only breakers on the beach?
Translation found here, poem number 272 of the Kokin Wakashū

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.

Published by Doug

🎵Toss a coin to your Buddhist-Philhellenic-D&D-playing-Japanese-studying-dad-joke-telling-Trekker, O Valley of Plentyyy!🎵He/him

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