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Newsletter: Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition

Delivered on June 26, 2019
Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 103] June 26, 2019

Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 103]
June 26, 2019
Japanese Traditional Culture Promotion & Development Organization


1. Seasonal food:
Getting rid of trouble and bad luck for the first half of the year:

:: 1. Seasonal food

June is "Roku-gatsu(the 6th month of the year)" in Japanese. It also
has another traditional name, Minazuki (水無月), which means "the
month of water". One of the theories about how it was named is that
June is the month to irrigate rice paddies in the old lunar calendar.

There is a traditional confectionery which was named exactly the same,
"Minazuki". This sweet is eaten in the Kyoto prefecture as a custom.
There is a sweet called Uiro which is a Japanese steamed cake made of
rice flour and sugar. "Minazuki" has sweet adzuki beans layered on top
of Uiro and is customarily cut into a triangle shape. Uiro is written
as "外良". It is originally the name of a Chinese medicine brought
into Japan in the middle of the 14th century, which was believed to
have an oral refrigerant effect as well as to work for eternal youth
and immortality. As the small balls of the medicine looked similar to
the sweet, it gradually began to be called "Uiro (外良) Mochi(rice
cake)" and it has now become the sweet Uiro that we still eat now
after many improvements of ingredients and its processes.

The reason why the confectionary was named "Minazuki" was likely to be
for two reasons. Firstly, it was associated with the day of "Kori no
Tsuitachi (The first day of the ice)" which was on June 1 in the old
lunar calendar. The first of June used to be called as such because
of a custom in olden times; that day, the people living in the
imperial court shared ice, which was the snow stored in ice houses
during the winter time, with their vassals. The nobles then shared it
with their friends. It was because there was a belief that if you ate
even a small piece of ice, you wouldn't be unwell, lose weight from a
heatwave or even wouldn't get any illness during the summer.

Although the court nobles were able to install ice houses, it was an
unaffordable luxury item for ordinary people. Therefore, they made
triangle sweets that looked like the ice instead of eating real ice so
that they could pray for their good health and disaster free lives
like the nobles.

Secondly, it was related to the day of "Nagoshi no Harae (ritual for
passing summer)" on June 30 which is one of the ritual ceremonies in
the Shinto religion. On the day, many local Shinto shrines have ritual
events. Especially in the one in Kamigamo shrine, the custom called
"Chinowa-kuguri" in which passing through a big hoop made of Kaya
grass (often used for thathing) at the entrance of the shrine, is
famous. When it came to June, the sweet started being sold in many
sweets shops and it was said that if people ate it on the ritual day,
it could expel bad luck and prevent summery illness too. The triangle
white Uiro is an imitation of ice, to be consumed to prevent
heatstroke and to refill energy at the time of increasing humidity and
heat. It was also believed to be able to drive away evil spirits as
well as bad luck apparently.

Either way, the sweet was eaten in June, which is just before summer
coming, and people believed that it could prevent summery illness.
Also, its colours and shapes suggest various meanings of the
ingredient; adzuki bean is "the colour of talisman", the white colour
represents "the purity and innocence", and also, the triangle shape
symbolizes "the ice".

Are there any sweets related to this month in your country? In Japan,
it’s the start of the long lasting summer, and we need to refill
energy to get over it. As you have seen, the sweet “Minazuki” is
certainly the right one for this season.

Translation by: Hitomi Kochi, reviewed by Chan Yee Ting

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Development Organization (JTCO)- All Rights Reserved.

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