Friday, August 5, 2011

Japanese Holidys: 七草の節句 Nanakusa no sekku, Seven Grasses Day

In Japan, January 7th is known as Nanakusa no sekku and was a national holiday during the Edo period. Nanakusa means seven grasses or herbs, sekku means a seasonal festival. It is one of the five gosekku festival days including Boys’ Day(Kodomo no hi),Girls’ Day(Hina Matsuri), and the Star Festival(Tanabata). On this day, Japanese eat a rice porridge made of seven wild spring herbs:

Japanese parsley (seri)

Shepherd's purse (nazuna)

Jersey Cudweed (gogyō)

Common chickweed (hakobera)

Nipplewort (hotokenoza)

Turnip (suzuna)

Daikon (suzushiro)

The herbs may vary depending on the region. Rice porridge made with these herbs is said to promote health for the new year. In ancient times, there were few green vegetables at this time of year and these herbs were a supplement to the sparse winter menu. These herbs are the first of spring, even though it's still winter. In general Japanese think that the first vegetables or herbs of the season are the strongest and one will be strong if you eat them. In the Edo period, there were few doctors or medicine, so this practice had a much stronger signifigance than it does today. Another reason is it’s a kind of traditional detox diet after the over-indulgence of eating and drinking during the New Year’s season. It’s gentle and soothing on the stomach. In some areas, there is also a traditional song or chant that is recited while cutting the herbs. The chant is about a bird and good luck. Around this time, you can buy sets of these herbs at stores all over Japan.

This day is also known as Jinjtsu, “Human Day”. In ancient China each of the first seven days of the first lunar month was assigned an animal. It was forbidden to kill that animal on that day They are:

First- Chicken Day

Second- Dog Day

Third- Wild Boar Day

Fourth- Sheep Day

Fifth-Cow Day

Sixth- Horse Day

The seventh was human day and criminals were not punished on this day. The weather on the eighth day was supposed to foretell the year. If it was good weather, that year would be good.

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