Rakes, roosters, and beautiful fall foliage–November has arrived!
In November, temperatures are beginning to drop, and in areas where there is grass or a bit of garden, you should expect to see morning frost. That is why this month is called Shimotsuki 霜月, literally Frost Month. If you read our post from last month (October–What Happens and What To Eat), you’ll remember that every October, the myriad gods of Japan gather in Shimane Prefecture at the celebrated Izumo Taisha Shrine to plan for the next year’s harvest and to do some matchmaking. Well, once the conference is over, the gods come back to their various home shrines, giving us the alternative name for November, Kami Kizuki 神帰月, The Month of the Gods’ Return.
Seasonal Celebrations–Winter is Coming
During this month as we look ahead to winter and–sooner than you would expect–New Year’s, the calendar is scattered with reminders that the warm days are well behind us.
November 7– 立冬 Rittō, the official beginning of winter
November 8– ふいご祭り Fuigo Matsuri, the Bellows Festival
November 8 火焚祭 Hitaki Sai, Fall Festival at Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto
November 22 小雪 Shōsetsu, the first scatterings of snow begin to fall
Events–Tori No Ichi
What Is Tori No Ichi?
Tori No Ichi (Rooster Market) is a lively market held every year in November. Big luck-bearing kumade markets are opened at 鷲神社 in Asakusa, 花園神社 in Shinjuku and 大國魂神社 in Fuchū (Tokyo area). By buying these kumade, people hope to bring prosperity to their businesses and to attract good luck for the coming year. Thus, this is actually the first of the many events leading up to Oshōgatsu (お正月, New Year’s). Kumade (fancy decorative rakes) come in all different sizes, and if you have spent time in Japan, you have probably seen them displayed in storefronts. Did you know that the idea is to start small and buy a slightly bigger one every year? Of course, the bigger they are the more expensive, so choose wisely! Also, Tori No Ichi is one of the rare places in Japan where you are supposed to haggle.
The Origin of Tori No Ichi
The name Tori No Ichi comes from 酉, the rooster on the Zodiac calendar. As every Japanese knows, each year has a designated Zodiac animal. In fact, asking a person’s Zodiac animal is a tactful way to find out their age in relation to you. A lesser-known fact is that also each day of the month, and even the hours of the day are all assigned a Zodiac animal. In November, Tori No Ichi occurs on every tori no hi (酉の日, rooster day). This year there are only two, but in some years there is a third.
一の酉 (Rooster Day 1) November 9
二の酉 (Rooster Day 2) November 21
Everywhere in the world, autumn means beautiful fall foliage, but somehow it seems that nowhere in the world do people pay such close attention to the subtle changes in color than in Japan. The beautifully-colored leaves, especially of the gingko tree and momiji (Japanese maple), is called kōyo 紅葉. Between the months of October and December, the trees start to turn in the north in Hokkaido and gradually the change progresses southward to Okinawa. This southward progression is called kōyo zensen 紅葉前線 and is monitored by the Japan Meteorological Agency just like warm and cold fronts. In order for leaves to turn beautiful colors, they need warm days, cool nights, and the perfect amount of sunlight and humidity. The prime time to see the trees in their full glory is apparently 3 to 4 weeks after the first leaves turn, meaning this year in Tokyo, the last weekend in November will be radiant.
Wherever you are in the world, as the weather turns crisp you can’t help but miss kōyo. If you’re feeling a little sad to be missing it this year, try a virtual tour of Jingo-Ji Temple in Kyoto. The 360 degree panorama experience has both a daytime view with lush green momiji and a night view with a burst of vivid red and yellow. Have a relaxing look around, serenaded by peaceful instrumental music. You can also check out a helpful article by Better Homes and Gardens, showcasing the different types of Japanese maples, their growing conditions, and where to buy them. If you are looking for your next gardening project, this might be just the resource you need!
There is something about the fall that makes us want to snack. Maybe it’s 食欲の秋, the proverbial phenomenon of increased appetites in autumn. Here are a couple of classic fall foods to satisfy your snacking urge. Perhaps your okaachan or obaachan cooked one of these for you. If so, let us know in the comments below.
Gingko Nuts (Ginnan)
Gingko nuts are the seeds of the beautiful Gingko tree that turns brilliant yellow in November. You will recognize the little oval-shaped, pale green globes from chawanmushi (savory egg custard). Gingko nuts are also tasty when heated in the microwave and sprinkled with salt like popcorn, but be careful! Adults are recommended to eat no more than 10, children no more than 5. Too much will give you symptoms of food poisoning!
[How to prepare Gingko Popcorn: ①Add to a paper bag ②Fold the mouth of the bag over twice ③Microwave for 1.5 to 2 minutes at 500W (you will hear them popping as they get done) ④Being careful of steam, open the bag ⑤If any of their shells are not cracked, microwave them a little longer, or use a nutcracker to open them ⑥Add salt and enjoy!]
Sweet Potato (Satsumaimo)
Sweet potatoes are another definite fall staple. Whether chopped up and cooked with your rice as hearty satsumaimo gohan, glazed with sugar and sprinkled with goma (sesame) as daigakuimo (candied sweet potato), or stone-baked as yakiimo, they are one of the delights of the colder season. A super easy way to prepare them is to steam them in the rice cooker. It really does work!
[How to prepare sweet potatoes in the rice cooker: ①Wash two sweet potatoes ②Chop them to fit in the rice cooker ③Add 100ml water with a pinch of salt ④Cook on regular setting ⑤Remove from rice cooker and enjoy as is or with a slice of butter]
Recipes are thanks to 大切にしたい、にっぽんの暮らし, by Hiromi Sato.