What is ‘Saijiki’?

SaijikiW is translated as ‘alamanac or glossary of seasonal words for HaikuW poets’in most of the Japanese / English dictionaries. This is surely a major meaning for those who write Haiku and some other classical Japanese poetry. But to those who don’t or have no interest in writing or reading Haiku still register ‘Saijiki’ as an agenda in their daily life, especially if the person is brought up in a family who have been holding esteem to the nature. This is because ‘Saijiki’ were books written on annual function, such as events, festival and occasion.


“Japanese Saijiki” by Ekken Kaibara. Photo from National Archives of Japan ‘BUNZO’ Site.

The oldest ‘Saijiki’ that exist today in Japan is of mid 6th century from China written by Ching-Chu on annual function and customs of Xingchu, now where Hubei and Hunan province, China is. It was in Nara periodW when “Keiso Saijiki (The Xingchu Suishiji)” written by Chingu-Chu was brought to the Imperial Court that the word ‘Saijiki’ became known to the Japanese. It was not until 1688 that Kaibara EkkenW, a philosopher and botanist wrote “Japanese Saijiki” that Japanese brought out their own to the public.

On the other hand, books on Haiku poetry based on season was first published using the word ‘Saijiki’ by Takizawa BakinW, a great famous novelist of Edo periodW who wrote “Nanso Satomi HakkendenW, a novel of adventure that started from a romance between a princess and her beloved dog which still is a popular icon today that you will find in Anime, Manga and computer games. His “Haikai Saijiki” was a great hit that it was reprinted until Meiji periodW. This fact may be the reason why that the word ‘Saijiki’ is more focused on Haiku.

What is ‘Koyomi’?

‘Koyomi’ is simply translated as a ‘calendar’ in English but here, ‘Koyomi’ signifies Japanese calendar. Japan was using Lunisolar calendarW formally until 1872. The bases of the Japanese calendar were first brought in from China in 5th to 6th century. The first calendar was espoused in the Imperial Court in means of security of the imperial family and the nation because the calendar was closely related to astrology as well as astronomy. However, the Chinese based calendar had differs and errors because of the geographical condition. The Court had to work out a calendar which was more precise to their circumstance, set up a ministry only for the calendar, ‘Onmyo-ryo’. Onmyo-ryo was formed by 4 divisions; Onmyo – a division for bringing up ‘Onmyoji (a diviner of divining sticks, Da Liu RenW and other divination), Tenmon – a division of divining based on astronomical observation, Koyomi – a division editing and creating calendar and Rokoku – a division presiding water clock and time signal.
Abe no SeimeiW, the most famous and popular diviner in Japan and yet still is, as we have many novels, films, drama, Manga, Anime and computer games, is from ‘Tenmon division of Onmyo-ryo.


A book of Koyomi, Edo period. Photo from Kyureki, wa-no-koyomi.

Of course the Koyomi and instructions which came up from Onmyo-ryo were for the Court. But as the time passes, the Koyomi was taken into those outside the Court as they also had to participate in some of the events that were based on the Koyomi for the Court. In Edo periodW, many books and papers were written and passed out to people to be alert to the scheduling of planting seeds for the farmers, sailing out for the fishermen and timing of presents for merchants. Hetaerae were one of the people who were so alert to the Koyomi because they could invite their patrons under the pretext of Koyomi events.

It was not until 1869 that the minister of Onmyo-ryo deceased which the ministry was closed. But Koyomi still exists everywhere in Japan. The seasonal festivals that take place, everywhere in Japan, especially those that have concerns with shrines and temples are based upon the Koyomi of the land. Because Koyomi is still in Lunisolar calendar, many festivals tend to be a little late than the calendar we use now.


Inside one of the Koyomi, Edo period. Photo from Kyureki, wa-no-koyomi.

Deciding a special date, like wedding and funeral, many Japanese, even though with people who don’t usually believe in data that has no scientific back up, mind about these dates on Koyomi. You may have a chance to look at the ShintoW ceremony of purifying a building site when you visit Japan, even in big cities like Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka or Fukuoka. The buildings don’t end up in personal belonging homes but big skyscrapers like what you see in Marunouchi! The date of the ceremony is based on again, Koyomi!

24 Solar Term and 72 Seasons

Now that you know that ‘Saijiki’ is based upon ‘Koyomi’. Saijiki here is an annual agenda which originates from Koyomi. Koyomi has 24 Solar termW which is based on lunisolar calendar that matches a particular astronomical event or signifies some natural phenomenon. There are 24 different names on each term. Still more, the Japanese have divided one term into three, making 72 seasons in a year. The divided 3 are named ‘Shokou’, ‘Jikou’ and ‘Makkou’. This fact is proving that the Japanese in the old times were alert to small nature changes in their lives that we, the modern Japanese, tend to forget while leading urban life.



2014’s Koyomi published today by Jingukan. Cover and inside. It hasn’t changed much from Edo period! Photo from Jingukan Official Site.

We decided to introduce the Saijiki and Koyomi to you because we think they are one of the most important backgrounds of Japan and they still exist in daily life, more if you visit countryside, that are definitely some kind of belief or a part of life to all the Japanese.
To get to know them, we are sure that many places you visit in Japan will become more close and understandable.
Or perhaps, you could adopt the idea to your own lifestyle in your country and make your own Saijiki and Koyomi!