October–What Happens and What to Eat

October–What Happens and What to Eat

A conference of the gods at Izumo Taisha Shrine, the Night of the 13th, and the Seven Herbs of Autumn–October is here!

Month Name–Kannazuki / Kamiarizuki

The wafuu meigetsu ((和風名月, traditional Japanese name) for the month of October throughout most of Japan is Kannazuki 神無月, literally no-god-month! Only in Shimane Prefecture in southwestern Japan is it known by its alternate name, Kamiarizuki (神在月), god-is-here-month. How did October two names that mean the total opposite of each other? The story is intriguing, so even if you’ve heard it many times before, keep reading!

Gods’ Conference–神議 かみはかり

To make a long and rather complicated story short, during October, the many Shinto gods residing all over Japan go on a business trip to Shimane Prefecture in order to hold an annual conference. For one week, they stay at Izumo Taisha Shrine 出雲大社 and discuss details about the next year’s harvest and to make matches for mankind. Izumo Taisha Shrine where they gather is said to have been built by the goddess Amaterasu Ōmikami as a part of a deal that allowed her to take control of the area. On the day of the conference, the gods arrive at the beach and make a procession to their accommodations on the shrine grounds. Their itinerary is as follows:

October 10–Welcoming Ceremony

Kami Mukae Shinji (神迎神事) or Kami Mukae Sai (神迎祭)

October 11-17–God Conference

Kami Ari Sai (神在祭)

Between October 11th and 17th–Thanksgiving Day

Koden Niinamesai  (古伝新嘗祭)

*Discontinued after the American occupation post-World War II and refashioned into Labor Thanksgiving Day on November 23rd

October 17–Sendoff Ceremony

Kami Saru Sai (神等去祭)

Where Are The Gods During October?

Izumo Taisho Shrine – Haiden (Wikimedia Commons)

Since all the gods of Japan are gathered in Shimane for this one week, it makes sense that people living in Shimane would call October “god-is-here-month” while the rest of Japan calls it “no-god-month.” Does that mean the rest of Japan really abandoned for a whole week? No! For two reasons. Reason number one is that, actually, not all the gods attend the conference. A few stay behind to look after things while the conference goes on. Probably the most familiar of these is Ebisu (恵比須 えびす), the fat and smiling god of fishermen and tradesmen.

Iwamikakgura Ebisu (Wikimedia Commons)

In addition, Konpira (金比羅 こんぴら), the god of merchant sailors, Dousoujin (道祖神 どうそじん), the guardians of the roadways, and Kamado no Kamisama (かまどの神様), the god of the stove and kitchen who keeps a naughty list (to be discussed at Izumo Taisha) remain behind. Reason number two is that it is believed that the gods have the power of wakemitama (分け御霊), the ability to be in multiple places at once. In that case, why call it Kannazuki at all?

In fact, the な (na) in Kannazuki did not originally mean ない (nai) as most people today understand. Instead it was the ancient way to write の (no), which makes the month name read 神の月 (Kami No Tsuki ), or god’s month. October might have gotten this name because it is a busy time at the shrines with many fall festivals.

In any case, Izumo Taisha has been and continues to be extremely popular for those seeking divine intervention in their relationships. While originally pertaining to romantic relationships, people now visit and pray for help with friendships, new jobs, moving house, and whatever else involves a new connection with something or someone.

Seasonal Celebrations–Jūsanya

Jūsanya Moon | Saseo PhotoAC

Last month in September, you might have celebrated Jūgoya (十五夜, the Night of the 15th) with susuki (ススキ Japanese pampas grass) and tsukimi dango (月見団子 plain rice flour balls). Jūgoya is the night when the moon is supposedly at her most radiantly beautiful–did you get a good photo? (You can read more about its origins and how to celebrate Jūgoya here)

As you may know, Jūgoya is a celebration originally imported from China, but did you know that Japan has its very own moon viewing celebration? It’s called Jūsanya (十三夜, the Night of the 13th), when the moon is the second most beautiful.

If you celebrate the Night of the 15th, it is absolutely essential that you don’t neglect to also celebrate the Night of the 13th, preferably from the same location. Otherwise, it would be a faux pas called katamizuki 片見月. On Jūsanya, the number of dango in the stack are reduced according to the number of days: thirteen. Jūsanya is celebrated according to the lunar calendar, so the date on the current solar calendar is different every year.

In 2021, it falls on Monday, October 18.

Nature–The Seven Herbs Of Autumn

Nadeshiko | aoha0830 PhotoAC

Although fall is the season when leaves shrivel and die, plenty of plants and beautiful flowers are just coming into bloom in October. This month, you may want to take special note of the Seven Herbs of Autumn (秋の七草, aki no nana kusa). They are:

  1. bushclover (ハギ, hagi)
  2. Japanese pampas grass (ススキ, susuki)
  3. kudzu (クズ, pink dianthus) 
  4. Dianthus (ナデシコ, nadeshiko) the name of the Japanese women’s soccer team
  5. patrinia (オミナエシ, ominaeshi)
  6. Thoroughwort (フジバカバ, fujibakaba)
  7. balloon flower (キキョウ, kikyō).

In contrast with the Seven Herbs of Spring, which you should eat in a bowl of rice porridge, the aki no nana kusa are not for eating but for putting on display. Jūsanya might just outshine Jūgoya if you put out all seven herbs!

Food–Fall Brings A Bigger Appetite

Persimmon: Photo by Any Lane from Pexels

You might be familiar with the proverb, 食欲の秋 shokuyoku no aki, which basically means that in autumn you tend to have a bigger appetite than at other times of the year–perhaps in preparation for the winter.

Whether or not you are planning to hibernate, fall is harvest time, which means plenty of good things to eat just as we begin to spend more time indoors! For those of you who grew up in Japan, your obaachan probably served you piping hot bowls of kuri gohan (chestnut rice), simmered kabocha, cinnamony matsutake mushrooms, stewed sanma (Pacific saury), or fresh slices of kaki (柿, persimmon) in the autumn.

There are plenty of recipes online for Japanese autumn recipes, so today we will share a spectacular recipe that blends Western seasonal flavors with Wafuu flavors in a chic balance. Crispy Mushrooms with Creamy White Beans and Kale calls for the quintessentially Japanese matsutake and shiitake mushrooms, cannellini beans, Tuscan kale, and feta cheese.

Serve this fancy side at your Jūsanya party in the light of the moon as you talk about 縁結び (en-musubi) surrounded by pots of susuki and hagi for a truly October experience!

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