Chrysanthemum Festival

Chrysanthemum Festival (Jugoya)

Type of Holiday: Calendar/Seasonal
Date of Observation: Ninth month of the Buddhist lunar calendar
Where Celebrated: Japan, Korea, Okinawa
Symbols and Customs: Chrysanthemum, Chrysanthemum Dolls, Mounting the Heights, Number Nine
Related Holidays: Chung Yeung


The Chrysanthemum Festival was the last of the five sacred festivals of ancient Japan. It was observed throughout the ninth month and often into the tenth month of the Buddhist lunar calendar (September-October). The ninth day of the ninth moon, known as Chrysanthemum Day, was primarily an occasion for visiting one's superiors and expressing concern for their well-being during the cold months ahead. Chrysanthemums were planted in pots and gardens in anticipation of visitors.

For at least a thousand years, the Chrysanthemum Festival was basically a sun festival dedicated to assuring the health of the community by delaying the "decay" of the sun and of mankind's vital powers. Not only was the chrysanthemum an autumn-blooming flower, but its petals resembled the sun's rays. It wasn't until the late seventeenth century that this festival became a national holiday and a much more elaborate event. By that time feudal lords and other wealthy people had taken up the hobby of cultivating new varieties of the flower, especially very large ones. By the end of the Tokygawa period (seventeenth to eighteenth centuries), there were hundreds of varieties, and flower-viewing parties were popular. Depending upon the local climate, the festival might last a month or more.

Today, Chrysanthemum Day is observed in scattered locations throughout Japan, Korea, and Okinawa by eating chrysanthemum cakes (a dumpling made from yellow petals mixed with rice flower) and drinking chrysanthemum wine. Because the Double Ninth (ninth day of the ninth lunar month) is also associated with fear and death, it is considered by some to be a festival of the dead, a time to visit the graves of ancestors and tend their gravestones, similar to the CHING MING Festival in China.



The chrysanthemum was imported to Japan from China in 386 C . E ., after which its popularity spread rapidly. Because it bloomed in the autumn, it was associated with melancholy thoughts, reminding people of winter and of their own approaching deaths. The chrysanthemum was also regarded as a symbol of the sun, which it resembled in color and shape. The traditional Japanese sun emblem became a stylized chrysanthemum on the personal badge of the late twelfth century Emperor Go-Toba, at a time when individual signs or badges were used among the nobility to identify their carriages and attendants. It remained as a badge in the Imperial family, and after 1868 it was reserved exclusively for the ruler and his relatives.

The chrysanthemum is known as the kunshi or "nobleman" of flowers. It is held in higher esteem than even the cherry or plum blossom, and its dignity has been compared to the upright character of a true gentleman. Its strong smell and taste make it a good plant for guarding against the evils of the approaching winter, and it is widely regarded as a symbol of longevity and good health. Buddhist temples often use chrysanthemums as an ornamental theme, shopkeepers may have a pot of chrysanthemums on their balconies, and wealthy families sometimes have a separate chrysanthemum enclosure in their gardens.

Chrysanthemum Dolls

In the latter part of the eighteenth century, the art of training small chrysanthemums to grow over a framework led to the popularity of kiku ningyo or chrysanthemum dolls. The plants were grown within a fragile network of woven bamboo or wire and trained so that the blossoms would only form on the surface, covering the entire structure with a smooth, velvety coat of flowers in varying sizes and colors. The frame was shaped and posed to resemble a human figure, with the head, hands, and feet made of wax or paste. The dolls were arranged in tableaux, with a background composed entirely of floral objects.

At one time, Edo (Tokyo) had more than 50 places where displays of kiku ningyo were held. Other large Japanese cities held such exhibitions in public parks. Eventually the cost of producing the figures became prohibitive, and by the early twentieth century such exhibitions had died out. Chrysanthemum Festival

It is possible that these huge dolls descended from the primitive grass dolls known as hammasama. When thrown into a stream or swift-moving river, these ancient dolls were believed to carry the individual's sins with them as they floated away.

Mounting the Heights

Chrysanthemum Day is a popular time for "mounting the heights"-going to the nearest mountain or hill for a picnic. According to a Han dynasty legend, a famous soothsayer named Fei Changfang warned his friend, a scholar named Huan Jing, that a disaster was about to occur. Fei recommended that Huan pack up his family, some food, and a jug of chrysanthemum wine and seek the shelter of a high hill. Huan did as he was told, and when he descended later that day, he discovered that all of his livestock were dead. He realized that if he had not taken the soothsayer's advice, he would have been killed as well.

Hillside picnics and chrysanthemum wine remain a popular way of ushering in the autumn and commemorating Huan's good fortune.

Number Nine

The date of this festival-the ninth day of the ninth lunar month-was originally adopted from China (see CHUNG YEUNG), where the number nine was considered especially lucky. Since three is the universal "perfect number" and three times three equals nine, the "double ninth" can only bring the best possible fortune.

The ninth day of the ninth month is also a symbol of "yang," or the positive, masculine force in Chinese cosmology. According to the yin-yang theory, odd numbers are associated with the male principle, and the occurrence of two yang numerals, especially when they are both nine, is particularly advantageous.


Casal, U.A. The Five Sacred Festivals of Ancient Japan. Rutland, VA: Sophia University in cooperation with Tuttle, 1967. Eberhard, Wolfram. A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols: Hidden Symbols in Chinese Life and Thought. New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Stepanchuk, Carol, and Charles Wong. Mooncakes and Hungry Ghosts: Festivals of China. San Francisco: China Books & Periodicals, 1991.
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009

Chrysanthemum Festival

September-October, including the ninth day of ninth lunar month
The Chrysanthemum Festival was the last of the five sacred festivals of ancient Japan. It lasted over the ninth month and sometimes into the tenth month of the Buddhist lunar calendar, although the ninth day of the ninth month was known as Chrysanthemum Day, primarily an occasion for paying visits to one's superiors. Also known as Choyo, the festival was a unique tribute to the gardening and artistic skills of the Japanese, who developed a method for growing chrysanthemums within a wire or bamboo frame in the shape of a human figure. The boughs were guided around the frame such that the flowers bloomed only on the outside, clothing the figure in flower blossoms. The heads, hands, and feet of these more-than-life-sized figures would be made of wax or paste, but their costumes were made entirely of chrysanthemums, with blossoms of different sizes and colors used to achieve as realistic an effect as possible.
Formerly, kiku ningyo exhibitions were numerous, and could still be seen in the parks of big cities in the early part of the 20th century. But the cost of growing the flowers and erecting the figures became prohibitive, and the exhibits eventually died out. In Japan, Korea, and Okinawa today, Chrysanthemum Day is a fairly unimportant holiday, observed in scattered locations by eating chrysanthemum cakes (a dumpling made from yellow chrysanthemum petals mixed with rice flour) and drinking chrysanthemum wine.
DictFolkMyth-1984, p. 540
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 576
JapanFest-1965, p. 186
OxYear-1999, p. 703
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
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