Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

How Long Is The Long Month?

In modern Japan the months are referred to, not by any name, but by number. September, for example, is kugatsu (九月), which literally means "nine month". October is jûgatsu (十月), which means "ten month", while August has the innocuous title hachigatsu (八月), which most would translate as "eight month".

Not very inspiring, is it? However, the Japanese haven't always done it this way.

In fact, there are traditional names for the months dating from antiquity. They were originally part of the Japonified Chinese lunar calendar, which was used up until the 11th century, but they were adapted to fit the Western solar calendar without sacrificing their seasonal significance. Therefore, though the traditional names are rarely used anymore except in poetry and certain school subjects, they still apply. They can be rather colorful, too. Allow me to illustrate:

January - Mutsuki - (睦月) "Harmonious Month", so named because it is a time for people to live together in harmony (possibly because it's so cold in January that people tended not to go out so much).

February - Kisaragi - (either 如月 or 衣更着) This one is hard for me to translate. The first way of writing it in kanji (如月) can mean "Exemplary Month" or even "Buddha's Month", but the second (衣更着) literally means "Put on more clothes"!. As for the word "kisaragi" itself, ignoring the kanji, it originally meant "rehabilitate plants". So many potential meanings for such a short month!

March - Yayoi - (弥生) - "More and More Life", so named because it is the time when green leaves and grass start to appear.

April - Uzuki - (卯月) - "Deutzia Month", so named because it's the time when the deutzia blooms. Actually, the first kanji, read "u" [oo] and meaning "deutzia", is often used in classical literature to refer to the fourth item in a series, so it's hard to say which came first, the flower or the count.

May - Satsuki - (皐月) - The original meaning is unclear and may have been lost. The first kanji is never used anymore except to mean "May", either in reference to the month or as a girl's name. Actually, it originally meant either "swamp" or "shore". It is known that rice planting began during this month, so maybe it was the time rice fields were flooded, thus turning them into "swamps".

June - Minazuki - (水無月) - Literally "Waterless Month". Ironically, the month was given this name because it's when the rainy season occurs, thus, it was believed, emptying the heavens of water.

July - Fuzuki (or Fumizuki ) - (文月) - "Composition Month". The first kanji by itself means "sentence" nowadays, but it traditionally refers to literary composition. The month bears this name because it was the season for poetry readings, an important event in the classical age.

August - Hazuki - (葉月) - "Leaf Month", so named because it is the month when leaves start to show their autumn colors.

October - Kannazuki - (神無月) - The name literally means "Godless Month" because it was believed the coming of the clouds meant the gods of heaven were going off on errands, leaving their posts vacant.

November - Shimozuki - (霜月) - "Frost Month". No explanation necessary.

December - Shiwasu - (師走) - The name literally means "Teachers (/Masters) Run" because it was the time of year when teachers were particularly busy. I guess some things never change even after a thousand years.

I seem to have forgotten a month, and it just so happens to be this month. The classical name for September is Nagatsuki (長月), which means "Long Month". Actually, it was originally called Yonagatsuki (夜長月) , "Evening Lengthens Month", because, surprise surprise, evenings start to grow noticeably longer with the passing of the autumnal equinox. Leave it to the Japanese to abbreviate everything!

To tell you the truth, though, I think the more modern version, Nagatsuki, is more on the mark. With all the things going on in September, planned or not, it really is shaping up to be a LOOONNNNNNNNG month!

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  • Isn't there a Blue RAV4 month?

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 11:35 PM  

  • I think there was back in the Nara Era (most of the 8th century), but I think blue was declared an unlucky color during the subsequent Heian Era, and the month was stricken from the calendar.

    There's no Yellow Kid month, either, unless you want to make tasteless racist jokes.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 11:58 PM  

  • No Blue Rava
    No Yellow Kid
    No Red Moon Month?

    I guess the looong month is sort of long - there's that strangeness when the evenings start to grow longer. Though I must say we've started September with surprisingly 'sunny' evenings, till the sun goes down of course.

    Funny isn't it
    Some cultures prayed to the gods for rain, and some cultures thought it rained because the gods abandoned their posts.

    Seems the english gods have been kind and produced just the right rain for a bumper crop of english apples. It's still not what you know, but who you know (it seems).

    By Blogger QUASAR9, at 4:01 AM  

  • It must be a long month for you because you haven't been posting very much lately. Neither have I. I'm just not in the mood.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:40 AM  

  • I am surprised you had time to post this.

    Japanese and Chinese would kill me, I think. If I knew both traditional and haiku, I'd be making the most hilarious translation boo-boos, I think!

    LOL @ Blue Rav4 Month! It would be called Brurafozuki.

    By Blogger Olivia, at 7:45 AM  

  • Interesting to know that Japan has a term for each month. All this time, I thought the way of referring each month in Japan is the same as in China by the number.

    By Blogger Selba, at 10:26 AM  

  • Interesting! I think traditional names can often tell you alot about a culture too.

    Alot of US Pagans have adopted some Native American names (or should I say methodology) to the months (Wolf Moon for January for examply, or Blackberry Moon for August, Salmon Moon for September).

    Ancient Celtic "months" were actually half-months, a "light" half, and a dark "half"- This may have come from Norse influences as well.

    We still have the Norse influenced days of week though!

    By Blogger ladybug, at 12:31 PM  

  • Thank you for a most interesting post. All I know about this month I learned from Frank Sinatra -

    "Oh, it's a long, long while from May to December
    But the days grow short when you reach September"

    Which seems odd, except of course, he was not referring the to day getting short, but rather that the number of days left in the year
    grows short.


    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 2:18 PM  

    Maybe the Celts were the ones that really got it right. ;-)

    Lack of time, lack of motivation, and lack of worthwhile subject matter. In past years I'd post pics of our annual school festival, which just ended, and some of the various performances of the Flying Eggheads, but I think you can understand why I haven't done that this time. My principal actually pointed out the school festival post from last year and said all the pics were acceptable (which is why they're still there), but he also said that about certain pics from last year's Australia trip, and someone else (read "a lackey of the vice principal) later "ordered" me to remove them with hinted threats of consequences if I didn't. (Hmm...who's in charge here, anyway?)

    I'm just not feeling like posting much right now.

    M'lady, you kill me sometimes!

    The Japanese DO use numbers like the Chinese now. The traditional names are archaic. However, I think they're a lot more interesting than boring numbers.

    Those amazing Pagans! What would we do without them?

    I remember hearing about a school that punished offenders by making them sit at detention in a cubicle into which Frank Sinatra music was piped. The rate of delinquency dropped dramatically.

    Sinatra magic!

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 4:07 PM  

  • that reminds me of the Old New year and the the New New Year

    By Blogger Swinebread, at 11:45 PM  

  • Hehe :)

    By Blogger Olivia, at 7:24 AM  

  • Why is July Blue? Better yet, why is May Green?


    December, but not May
    December, but not May
    December, but not May
    December, but not May
    December, but not May
    December, but not May

    * spoik! *

    By Blogger DewKid, at 8:03 AM  

  • Don't call ME a "spoik"! You're liable to find yourself dead in September!


    By Anonymous The Colorman, at 11:54 PM  

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