November is the month when chrysanthemums are in bloom. Called kiku in Japan, almost every garden has some variety of them to brighten up the landscape. This morning, I took the picture below in my neighborhood.
Oddly, Momo The Wonder Dog likes the smell of chrysanthemum leaves - she doesn't give whit about the flowers, just the leaves. Just shows perhaps how humans and dogs differ in which of the senses they each favor. We get more information through our eyes, dogs through their noses.
Chrysanthemums are as much loved in Japan as anywhere else (in fact, the flowers originated in China and Japan) and the Japanese Imperial Family has used the chrysanthemum as its family crest for over 700 years. I read that, according to Feng Shui beliefs, the chrysanthemum brings laughter and happiness to your home.
Floral displays of mums line the path to Kashima Jingu.
Every November, the City of Kashima puts on an exhibition of the flowers at Kashima Jingu Shrine. Participants display their flowers which are judged and the best awarded ribbons. I had no idea how many colors and varieties there are.
On the left, a father tries to gather his children for a portrait, while on the right, an older girl in kimono poses with the flowers adorning the gate.
Some are grown onto a wire frame and shaped to become flower cranes, turtles, trees, or fans. The gate of the shrine, built in 1634, is decorated with flowered fans, birds and mounds.
Some varieties are grown on wires to keep the stems straight and have a single large, but delicate, blossom at the top. They resemble exploding fireworks to me.
In addition to the chrysanthemum exhibition, November 15th is Shichi-go-san - literally "7, 5, 3" - a day for parents to pray at the shrine for the health and longevity of their young children at those ages. The children come to the shrine in their best clothes, whether Western style or traditional Japanese.
The significance of the ages 7, 5, and 3 correspond to old traditions. Back in the old days, kids aged three stopped getting their heads shaved and were allowed to grow out their hair. Boys aged five would wear hakama, traditional pants, for the first time in public. Girls aged seven would begin using obi - the wide decorative sash - to tie their kimono instead of cords.
There is additional significance in the numbers, as historically many Japanese, like many Chinese, regard odd numbers as lucky. Adding the three numbers results in 15, also lucky, so the date has been set as November 15th since the Edo period.
The parents buy the children chitose-ame, or longevity candy.
Chitose means 1,000 years. The candy, which is red and white wheat gluten, is in the shape of a stick and comes in long paper bags decorated with turtles and cranes - more symbols of longevity.
A little girl in kimono pauses for a precious moment, which I am lucky enough to capture with the camera. My friend YD of the blog Perspective shared this quote that comes to mind at times like this: 'The photograph itself doesn't interest me. I want only to capture a minute part of reality'. (Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1908-2004).
People come to pray at the main hall, called "hondo", accented by yellow chrysanthemum displays. Note the boy on the right is carrying a bag of chitose-ame. The hondo was built in 1619. The cedar just behind the building is over 1,000 years old.
If you're ever in Kashima City in the month of November, remember that mum's the word, and treat yourself to a stroll through Kashima Jingu.