Chapter 3: Kiku no sekku

Kiku no SekkuKiku no Sekku—Chrysanthemum Day—is one of Japan’s five ancient sacred festivals (sekku). Alternatively known as Choyo or Chokyu, it is celebrated on September 9th—the 9th day of the 9th month. “Chokyu” refers to this doubling of the number 9, and as it is a homonym for “chokyu” (permanence), it is no surprise that the festival is celebrated in the wish for long life. Chrysanthemum Day is observed by drinking chrysanthemum sake sprinkled with chrysanthemum petals and by eating dishes such as kuri-gohan (chestnut rice) and guri-mochi (chestnuts with glutinous rice). In some regions, soba and amazake are also enjoyed on this day.

Generally known as “kiku” in Japan, chrysanthemums are alternatively referred to as “okinagusa” and “chiyomigusa,” names that are also associated with longevity. As they are such auspicious flowers, chrysanthemums often appear as a motif on pottery. You will also come across chrysanthemum-shaped plates and futamono (lidded bowls) designed in the form of a chrysanthemum or decorated with images of the flower. While Japanese prefer not to have their Japanese-style tableware all in the same design, there are two exceptions: it is OK to have multiple plates in chrysanthemum and plum designs.

And that is why, on this day, we decorate the dining table colorfully with tableware kikuzukushi style (using tableware that all has some kind of chrysanthemum motif). Chrysanthemum flowers are also displayed, although for chrysanthemum flowers, Japanese have a custom known as “kisewata” (cotton cover). Chrysanthemum flowers are covered with pieces cotton fabric into which morning dew settles. It is said that wiping one’s face with the kisewata preserves youthfulness and brings the gift of long life. Women, in particular, appear to have enjoyed this custom. Perhaps we could consider reviving this ancient festival, even in modern-day life.

How delightful to float some chrysanthemum petals in a small sake cup with a chrysanthemum design, fill chrysanthemum-patterned rice bowls with kuri-gohan, place some delicacies in a chrysanthemum futamono and arrange these on the table!