Rikka, Shokou

24 Solar Term : RIKKA (from about 5th May to 20th May)

The weather in Tokyo is already like of those in early summer at day time though you could feel the cool or slightly cold wind at night reminding you that we are still in the beginning of May. Like the pleasant weather outside, now the term changes to ‘Rikka’, the name showing you, by the kanjiW used pointing out the starting of summer though we still have rainy season after this pleasant time of the year for the real summer’s start.

For those who hate the humidity of Japanese summer should chose this time of the year when visiting Japan (after the Golden Week would be the best). Beach huts are not yet open which is not an appropriate time for simply to enjoy swimming on the beach but those who like surfing could go off to the beaches where local surfers enjoy. Climbing mountains not so high would be great without much insects or getting too hot but those who are heading for higher mountains should beware of their facilities before climbing as there are still mountains with deep snow.

72 Seasons : SHOKOU – “Kaeru hajimete naku” (from about 5th May to 9th May)

rikka_shokouIf you go out from the big cities off to the countryside where water-filled rice fields already set seedlings, you may see many tadpoles or frogs in them. You can easily tell that frogs are there by their croaking sound, sometimes so loud at night that you cannot go to sleep if you are not used to it. The season phrase is about this small amphibian, the ‘Kaeru’, the frog.

Kaeru has been one of the creature that has been so familiar to the Japanese from the ancient days. 43 species of frogs are said to exist in Japan which half of the species are thought to be endemic species of Japan. The environment rich in water-edges and paddy fields should have been one of the best places for frogs’ living as well as rich in insects they prey.

Some of the frogs in Japan croak or rather sing beautifully that their songs were mentioned already in the oldest book of poetry collection, ManyoshuW.
It is the ‘Kajika frogW’ that sings beautifully, were given a different name as ‘Kawazu’  to classify from other ‘Kaeru’ but ‘Kawazu’ eventually indicated whole frogs. The great singer, Kajika frogs were even kept as singing pets in the gardens of the nobles in Heian periodW or in special cage, especially made for Kajika frogs in Edo periodW.

Beautiful Song of Kajika Frog

Apart from the beautiful croaking of such frogs, other frogs have also been the subjects of arts and literatures in Japan. The famous scrolls drawn of frolicking animals, the ‘Chōjū-jinbutsu-gigaW’ of 13th century gives you an idea that frogs were, indeed, one of the closest creature to the Japanese.


Scene of frogs and rabbits Sumo-wrestling in ‘Choju-jinbutsu-giga’ scroll. A stamp of 1977.

As frogs in the paddy rice fields prey on insects that do harm on the rice crops, they should have gained more popularity. It is interesting that in the Japanese poetry as HaikuW uses ‘Kaeru’ as seasonal word of spring but when using the specific names of the frogs as ‘Amagaeru (tree frog)’, ‘Hikigaeru (toad)’ or ‘Kajika (Kajika frog)’, they indicate summer. This could be because that the frogs start to croak from this season, which is one of the ways to tell the differences of the frogs.


Cute green ‘Amagaeru’.


Brazen looking ‘HIkigaeru’. A toad used for spells of ShintoW sorcerer, ‘Onmyoji’!


Japanese brown frog, ‘Akagaeru’. All these three are familiar frogs in Japan.

Finally, the season phrase follows with the word which we have been coming up to several times in the past, ‘hajimete’, meaning for the first time, or the start. The last verb, ‘naku’ is a Japanese for ‘to croak’, telling us that the frogs start to croak from this time of the year.

Tango Seasonal Festival (TANGO NO SEKKU)

5th May is celebrated as Tango No Sekku (Tango Seasonal Festival), Iris Day, Boy’s Day or Children’s Day in Japan. It may sound strange that the day has several purpose of celebration but this is because there is a long history backgrounds until today.

`Tango / 端午’ used to be a word indicating the first horse day of the month in Earthy BranchesW of Chinese Calendar. The horse day differs from Gregorian CalendarW that we use now, which in the ancient days, the day was different to 5th of the month.  But because the pronunciation of the ‘horse / 午’ kanjiW was similar to the pronunciation of ‘五(go) / five’, the day eventually pointed 5th day. The history of when Tango was set in May is not certain but regarding odd numbers as lucky numbers, seen in the logics of “Inyo Gogyo (Yin-YangW and Wu-XingW) which came into Japan from China in the earlier stages, January, March, May and September with the date that becomes doublet; as 1st January, 3rd March, 5th May and 9th September, are thought to have became important days. These dates still remain as Seasonal Festival Days in Japan, as you may know one already from our past article of Usui, Makkou, ‘Girls Day (HINAMTSURI)‘.


Celebrating Tango No Sekku, mid-Edo period. You can see that the decorated banners and swords that boys are carrying are more the real weapons.

Like the Girls Day which also has a name as ‘Peach Festival (or Momo No Sekku)’ in March, Tango No Sekku was originally a day for purification before the farm work being seriously started. This custom seems to have combined with the custom which came in from China as purging the noxious vapours by decorating dolls made with mugwort or iris leaves which we could still see left in our modern custom, decorated by the armour or iris leaves infused in the bath on the very day as a meaning of keeping away the evil or sickness.


Gorgeous decoration of full armour decoration in boys’ life-size. Photo from ‘Ningyoya Honpo Official Site‘.

It was the iris which brought in the custom of celebrating the growth of boys in Kamakura periodW, when samuraiWs gain force.  It was because that he pronunciation for iris in Japanese is similar to the word ‘shobu / 勝負’, meaning ‘compete’ or ‘match’ and that the iris leaves look like the shape of swords.

The custom of decorating their armours were for airing them, as well as purifying in the first place.  They are now made and sold in smaller sizes sent for decoration, usually from grandparents on boys’ births, wishing for the boys to grow strong and healthy.


Compact small size war-helmet decoration for those who can’s spare the space for decorating. Photo from ‘Ningyoya Honpo Official Site‘.

Another typical decoration that you’ll see in Japan at this time of the year is ‘Koinobori’, the big, fabric-made carps tied onto poles, flying in the air.
This carp-tied poles were the banners or the streamers which were one of the battle-gears, kept together with armours in the chests. The banners of the actual warfare had no carp tied on but the streamers you would still see on the very top of the poles of Koinobori today.

In the early period of samurais, while they wished and celebrated their sons’ growth and preached their families’ precepts, the banners were also brought out together with the armours to air and to decorate.   With the passage of time, the poles were added the fabric-made carp which had a meaning of social success after the Chinese legend of the only carp becoming the dragon which passed through the Dragon Gate of the Yellow River.  They are like the decorations on Christmas trees nowadays, bible-related and non-related sorts of lucky charm.

The custom of raising the Koinobori was first the custom of EdoW, the city of samurais, which gradually spread out wide over Japan in 19th century through Sankin-kotaiW, the system of ‘alternate attendance’ by samurai clans coming and going back, and merchants.


The flying Koinobori.

The typical food of Tango No Sekku are ‘Chimaki – steamed rice wrapped in bamboo leaves, known as ‘zongziW in other countries which originates in China, and ‘Kashiwa-mochi’ – rice cake with ankoW (sweet bean-paste) inside, wrapped in oak leaves.

Eating Chimaki on Tango No Sekku originates in the memorial service of one politician in Warring States periodW, China who drown himself to death on the day of Tango No Sekku from loss of hope.  Those who felt sorry for his death threw the zongzi into the river for the politician’s memorial service.


Typical Kashiwa-mochi.

On the other hand, Kashiwa-mochi is totally Japanese which were made to eat at this time of the year as the old oak leaves won’t fall until the new leaves come out, meaning the prosperity of descendants, appreciated by the samurais.


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