Tag Archives: lunar calander

Happy New Year!

4 Feb


Happy New Year!


“Huh?”, I hear you ask.

Let me explain.  February 3rd is Setsubun, literally “division of the seasons”.  On the lunar calendar, this was the end of the kan – the coldest part of the year – and folklore holds that from now the weather will get warmer.*  (For more information, see “24”)

Setsubun kit sold from the supermarket – demon mask, dried soybean plant and false holly.


New Year’s cards often have the word “risshun” (立春) – literally “rise of spring” – on them.  This stems from the fact that, prior to the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, Setsubun was the division between the old year and the new year.  February 4th (or roughly there about) was the first day of the new year.


So, Happy New Year!


* Unfortunately, no-one has told the weather that it is supposed to be getting warmer.  More cold weather – including fridge temperature maximums –  and snow have been predicted for this week.

Let it rain

28 Jun

One more rainy day

Once again my mind is grey

This is what a rainy day can do

One more rainy day

One more rainy day

Deep Purple

One of the wettest June months is drawing to a close, but I’d like to take a moment to talk about the old calendar month and its relationship to the rain.

The Gregorian calendar has been used in Japan since 1873, and the names of the months changed from old descriptive names to a rather boring number system – First Month, Second Month… you get the picture.

Sometimes people use the old month names in place of the corresponding modern month, but the actual time frames for the months do not always align well. For example, I am writing this on the 28th of June, but under the old lunar calendar, it would be the second day of the sixth month. This website calculates and transposes the lunar calendar onto the modern calendar.

The old name for the 6th month was Minazuki (水無月), and the characters for this literally mean “month of no water”. Since it is still the height of the rainy season, such a name does not make sense.
Some folk etymologies try to justify it with explanations such as there being no water left in the heavens, but in fact the second character is only a phonetic value for the possessive particle which actually turns the meaning into “month of water”.

Tokorozawa has an average June rainfall of 157.2 mm. This year, 164 mm fell on June 6th alone.

The “Month of Water” has been apt this year.



19 Dec

December 21st is the winter solstice in the Northern hemisphere.
The local name is toji (冬至) and the characters indicate that winter has well and truly arrived.

Sunrise is scheduled for 6:48 (just minutes before I leave for work) and sunset will be at 4:31 (around the time I leave work)

And it’s freezing!

The nifty app on my new phone that gives me sunrise and sunset times. We get approximately a minute more daylight on December 22 (assuming the world doesn’t end)

Rabbit on the moon…

15 Oct

Okay, we’ll keep a close eye for the bunny girl.

-Buzz Aldrin, Apollo Lunar Module, July 20, 1969

We experienced a full moon on the night of October 12th.  Full moons have been significant to many cultures since prehistory.  The October full moon is known as the Hunter’s Moon in old almanacs, owing to hunters in Europe being able to utilise the extended period of reasonable light for hunting after sunset.  The same is said to be true for certain Native Americans.

Japan’s relationship with the full moon is based around moon-viewing (tsukimi) in September.

Tradition holds that the full moon will occur on the 15th night (jugoya) lunar month, although some sources suggest the calender originally aligned the full moon with the 13th night (jusan-ya).  The September full moon falls in the period covered by the eighth month of the lunar calender, so the full name of this moon is Hachigatsu Jugoya (八月十五夜), literally “15th night in August”.  Similarly, the October full moon falls in the ninth lunar month, so it is Kugatsu Jusan-ya (九月十三夜), “13th night in September”.  This year, the lunar date fell on October 9th.  Confusing indeed.

While the September full moon viewing comes from China, the October event is unique to Japan, although it is merely an extension of the same concept – apparently a 10th century emperor and his coutiers decided that they liked the October full moon too.

Caveat: Some families place importance on the actual full moon for these nights, while others keep to the date (usually based around Buddhist events) regardless of the phase of the moon, or indeed if the moon is visible or not due to cloud cover.

Offerings are made to the [full] moon, typically dumplings (dango), which are round and white like the moon, and decorated with Japanese pampas grass (susuki).  The grass is a typical symbol of autumn.

Because harvest offerings are made to the full moon, different names may also be used.  September is harvest season for taro (which also happen to be round and white, like the moon), so it a sometimes known as imomeigetsu (芋名月) or “great moon of the potato”. Likewise, October offerings include unripe soybeans (edamame) and chestnuts (both of which are round-ish, kind of like the moon…)

[Update, October 18] An aquaitance has given me permission to use some beautiful photos of her family’s offerings.

tsukimi offerings

Harvest offerings to the moon. Photo by Misako Koshiishi

tsukimi offerings (zoom)

In addition to panpas grass, there are (large dish, clockwise) mandarins, taro, persimmons; and (small dish) manju. Photo by Misako Koshiishi.

Talk to any Japanese person an they’ll ask you if you can see the rabbit in the moon.

Rabbit in the Moon for Dummies. Still reckon it’s stretching the imagination a bit… Image courtesy of Wikipedia

The story goes that a monkey, a fox (the original Indian version has monkey, an otter and a jackal) and a rabbit met a starving old man and each set out to find food for him.  The monkey climbed a tree and brought fruit, the fox dived into a river and brought fish.  The rabbit was unable to do anything, and, full of remorse, dived into the fire to offer himself as food.

The old man revealed himself to be Sakra, and was so touched by the rabbit’s virtue that he put the creature’s image on the moon (some versions have it that the rabbit, or it’s soul, was sent to the moon).

I’ve looked pretty hard, but I still can’t see any rabbit in the moon!

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