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9 September: The Chrysanthemum Festival!

washi tray with chrysanthemum design

Our Washi Tray Purple Flower features chrysanthemums!

It's the 9th of September, and we're thinking of chrysanthemums today, as it's Kiku no Sekku in Japan: the Chrysanthemum Festival!

The Go-sekku

Kiku no Sekku is one of the five seasonal sekku that were originally imported from China by the Japanese Imperial court. It is held every year on the 9th day of the 9th month.

The go-sekku are:

O-Shogatsu on the 1st day of the 1st month.

Hinamatsuri on the 3rd day of the 3rd month.

Tango no sekku on the 5th day of the 5th month.

Tanabata on the 7th day of the 7th month.

Kiku no Sekku on the 9th day of the 9th month.


The Chrysanthemum in Japanese Classical Literature

Heian manuscript

Thank you to Harvard University for the beautiful manuscript images of The Spirit of the Chrysanthemum.

Chrysanthemums hold a central place in the symbolism of Japan, and these associations have a long history. It is a beloved flower in Japan, and its symbolism of the court runs through a wonderful old tale called The Chrysanthemum Spirit.

The Chrysanthemum Spirit is a dazzling manuscript written sometime in the Muromachi era (14th-16th century). It's the romantic story of the young Lady Kazashi, who yearns for chrysanthemums so deeply one appears to her in a dream-like way in the form of a beautiful young nobleman.

In this detail from the manuscript below, you can see him returning to the white chrysanthemums!

Heian manuscript

After many passionate meetings the dream-like nobleman begins to fade away, just as the chrysanthemums in the garden wilt and wither towards the end of autumn.

' day she took out the keepsake the man had instructed her to use as a memento.

Overwhelmed with emotion she opened it and discovered a single poem:

The fragrance

on your sleeves

I left behind -

how it withers in vain,

the chrysanthemum!

What she had taken to be a lock of his black hair had all along been a wilted chrysanthemum flower.

She felt more unsettled than ever, and thought to herself,

"Then even the leaves of verse left behind were composed by

none other than the spirit of the chrysanthemum." [1]

But the result of their meetings is a little daughter who goes on to become an Imperial Consort. The spirit of the imperial symbol chose the lady who would help create the future imperial line :)

Heian manuscript

Here you can see the imperial symbol of chrysanthemums on the spectacular gate to Kyoto's Nijō Castle:

Nijo castle gate, Kyoto

The Chrysanthemum in Japanese Poetry

The Hyakunin Isshu is one of the most beloved and important collections of poetry in Japanese literature. Compiled in the early 13th century, it features one hundred of the finest poets. Each poet is represented by one poem.

Here we can find this beautiful waka about our autumn chrysanthemum flower. It suggests the ephemerality of things, and captures the beauty and pathos of the idea that nothing can last forever (which is so exemplified in spring by cherry blossom falling). This is known as mono no aware.

To pluck a stem

I shall have to guess

for I cannot tell apart

white chrysanthemums

from the first frost.

drawing of Japanese court lady


The Chrysanthemum and Longevity

The chrysanthemum is a symbol of longevity and immortality in Japan: Heian courtiers left silk out to collect the dawn dew from the flowers - they believed that it helped prevent signs of ageing!

Infusions of the petals in sake and tea are still drunk in Japan today :)


The Chrysanthemum in Japanese Design

You'll see the chrysanthemum symbol on many of our gifts here at Zusetsu: it's beautiful design features on our furoshiki gift-wrapping and bags, our tenugui wall art, on our beautiful brocade purses, and on our pretty washi trays!

You can find all of these gorgeous items in-store!

And lastly..!

Our free InstaStory stickers feature some of the ladies that have been redrawn from The Chrysanthemum Spirit manuscript - we'd love you to use them! Just type Zusetsu or zusetsu into the search bar!

We hope you have enjoyed reading about Japan's Chrysanthemum Festival!

Why not take a look at another of our articles on Japanese Culture here!

Thank you for reading!

Cathy and Yukki


japanese court lady in a kimono reading


[1] Melissa McCormick (trans.), 'The Chrysanthemum Spirit', from Monsters, Animals, and Other Worlds: A Collection of Short Medieval Japanese Tales, collected by Haruo Shirane (Columbia University Press).

Melissa McCormick, Harvard University (EdX), Japanese Books: From Manuscript to Print

Peter Macmillan (trans.), One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each (Hyakunin Isshu), (Penguin Classics), Poem 29 by Oshikochi no Mitsune.


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