October: Kami-nashi-zuki

One of the old Japanese names for October is “kami-nashi-zuki” since it is the season to ferment newly harvested rice into sake, or, as is commonly explained, the gods (kami) are not available (nashi) because all of them got together for a conference at the Grand Shrine of Izumo.

While trimming my garden after summer vacation recently, I became acutely aware of a strong, sweet fragrance. I soon noticed the myriad, tiny orange flowers on the sweet osmanthus (kin mokusei) tree. This is but one of the heralds of October, a lovely month here in Kyoto. Nearby, bush clover (hagi) in pink and white blooms, extends in graceful arcs, swishing in the wind. In the Man’yoshu, Japan’s oldest poetry anthology, 141 verses are dedicated to bush clover (hagi) alone. It is one of the “seven flowers of Autumn” here in Japan, the others being: eulalia (susuki), kudzu (kuzu),pink (nadeshiko), yellow patrinia (ominaeshi), Japanese boneset (fujibakama) and Chinese bellflower (kikyo). Typically understated, the delicate forms and colours of the seven Autumn flowers make them popular motifs in a variety of crafts and looking for them in kimono and ceramic patterns is another pleasure of the season. Increased urbanization has made these flowers far less common than they once were, but still they evoke the feeling of early autumn. Walking in the Higashiyama hills we are more likely to see the “seven flowers” as well as chestnuts. In the words of the poet Tameie:

Yo no naka wa
aki ni nari-yuku
waka-guri no
emite suginan

“Another autumn! Young kuri just keep smiling even though they are astringent inside. This is no different from me.”

One thought on “October: Kami-nashi-zuki

  1. autumn is coming… leaves are already dropping and some beautiful colours including deep red are happening.

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