Kanro (Cold Dew)Culture Lifestyle History Environment
The solar term Kanro (Cold Dew) begins around October 8 in the modern calendar. The air clears and the dew feels cold. Autumn harvest is just beginning, and many schools hold their sports days. Winter fowl, such as geese and ducks, make their way to Japan. The sounds of insects chirping fills the night air.
This article will look at events and natural phenomena in the period roughly from October 8 to 23.
School Sports Day
Most schools in Japan hold their sports day at this time of year, although some are choosing spring to avoid lingering heat and typhoons.
Japan’s first sports day was probably held at a naval school in Tsukiji, Tokyo, in March 1874. The concept was introduced by a British teacher, Frederic William Strange, based on the athletic sports practiced in English schools at the time. The custom spread to elementary schools across Japan through the 1890s. The equivalent event at junior high and high schools is sometimes called a “physical education festival.” There are many varied events including running, obstacle races, relays, other athletic events, and dancing, as well as games, like tamaire or “balls in the basket,” where teams compete to get as many balls into their net as possible in the allotted time.
The running of sports days is changing with the times—now some elementary schools issue numbered tickets in advance or switch spectators for events in different grades to reduce the need for parents to jostle to be able to photograph their children.
Nagasaki Kunchi (October 7–9)
This large festival at Nagasaki’s Suwa Shrine dates back some 380 years. It was staged on the ninth day of the ninth month in the former lunar calendar and ”ninth day” or kunichi is the likely etymology of the festival’s name.
The neighborhoods of Nagasaki take turns to dance in the festival—once every seven years. The dance group leader carries a kasaboko (a combination of a halberd with umbrella) weighing over 100 kilograms. Props used vary each year—some years, a taikoyama, a giant decorated portable platform weighing around one ton, is carried on parade by 36 people and repeatedly tossed in the air. Another spectacle, a jaodori (dragon dance), sees a group carry a giant, long dragon puppet about in pursuit of a “jewel.”
A number of special dishes are served during the festival period, including rice steamed with azuki beans, white radish pickled with pomegranate, and loach soup.
Kannamesai at Ise Shrine (October 15–17)
Kannamesai is a festival held at Ise Shrine in Ise, Mie Prefecture, during which the first cereal harvest for that year is presented to Amaterasu (the sun goddess) to give thanks. Offerings include the first ears of rice harvested from the emperor’s rice field in the Imperial Palace grounds, and rice from farmers in different Japanese prefectures.
Murasakishikibu is a deciduous Japanese shrub. As autumn progresses, its fruit mature and turn purple. It is called the Japanese beautyberry in English, while in Japanese, it is named after the author of The Tale of Genji, Murasaki Shikibu—the name is said to have been prompted by the purple (murasaki) fruit. There is also a variety that produces white fruit, called shiroshikibu.
Kurama Fire Festival in Kyoto (October 22)
Held at Yuki Shrine, this is considered one of Kyoto’s most eccentric festivals. It originated when the god Yuki Daimyōjin was relocated from Kyoto Imperial Palace to Mount Kurama during the Heian period (794–1185), accompanied by a procession of people bearing torches made of reeds from the Kamo River. Today, participants carry the god’s portable shrine surrounded by torch bearers, and it is bathed in flying sparks as it is paraded around the village. At the climax, the torch bearers converge at the Sanmon gate of the Kuramadera temple.
Mushi kiki is the pastime of listening to insects chirping in the autumn evenings. In the Heian period, people held drinking parties in the countryside to enjoy the insect sounds, while in the Edo period (1603–1868), the sale of insects as novelty pets became popular. The ancient anthology Man’yōshū and The Tale of Genji contain poems about insect cries. In haiku poems, the word mushi (meaning insects and other small creatures) is used as a reference to the song of insects in the fall. Various crickets and grasshoppers also feature in Japanese children’s songs.
Apples are considered a healthy fruit with plenty of fiber and vitamin C. Aomori Prefecture grows around 60% of Japan’s apples and many are used to make juice, jam, cider, and sweets. Apples eaten in Japan today include varieties such as fuji, tsugaru, and ōrin, which all originated as crosses between Western varieties introduced to Japan in the Meiji era (1868–1912).
Shimeji and Hiratake Mushrooms
The mushrooms commonly sold as shimeji in Japan include both the round, brown-capped bunashimeji and broad-capped hiratake. The “true” honshimeji grow wild in deciduous and pine forests and are rich in umami flavors. Bunashimeji and hiratake also contain amino acids that enhance their umami. They are suited to a range of dishes thanks to their mellow taste.
Mackerel is highly nutritious and is known as the king of blue-backed fish. They can be caught year-round, but are fattier, and thus tastier, in autumn. For this reason, they are considered in season from fall through winter. They contain a strong antioxidant mineral and therefore offer a range of health benefits. Mackerel can be salted and grilled, cooked in miso, vinegared, or eaten raw as sashimi.
(Supervised by Inoue Shōei, calendar researcher and author, Shintō minister, and guest lecturer at Tōhoku Fukushi University. Banner photo: Autumn bellflowers in bloom alongside the path climbing Mount Gassan in Yamagata Prefecture. © Pixta.)