Autumn (Tokyo Studio)

Flowering months

September 2nd, 2008

Both the Chinese and the Japanese have alternative or old names for each month. These are infinitely more poetic than ‘first month’, ‘second month’, ‘third month’ etc that are in use. Remembering the order of the months is not a matter of basic numeracy, but about paying attention to your surroundings. The Chinese months are mainly based on the flowers in bloom:

1. Primens (first month) 正月: Latin “primus mensis”.
2. Apricomens (apricot month) 杏月: apricot blossoms.
3. Peacimens (peach month) 桃月: peach blossoms.
4. Plumens (plum month) 梅月: plum ripens.
5. Guavamens (guava month) 榴月: pomegranate blossoms.
6. Lotumens (lotus month) 荷月: lotus blossoms.
7. Orchimens (orchid month) 蘭月: orchid blossoms.
8. Osmanthumens (osmanthus month) 桂月: osmanthus blossoms.
9. Chrysanthemens (chrysanthemum month) 菊月: chrysanthemum blossoms.
10. Benimens (good month) 良月: good month.
11. Hiemens (hiemal month) 冬月: hiemal month.
12. Lamens (last month) 臘月: last month.

[from: Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_calendar]

I have never heard these used colloquially apart from perhaps ‘Last Month’ when people are preparing for the new year. It’s a pity they are not in more common use. There are also equivalent in the Japanese calendar. These are not used day-to-day either, but my Japanese tutor, Yuki san, tells me that some of the terms are still used in greetings in letter-writing (and some calendars still use them). All of this reminds me of the descriptions in Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book of the skills and knowledge in letter-writing when letters sent must be accompanied by the seasonal flowers in bloom.

My late maternal grandmother did traditional Chinese painting. She specialised in flowers and insects. I selected some of her silk paintings here that signify the seasons.

Painting of apple blossom Painting of flowers Painting of flower Painting of flowers

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One Response to “Flowering months”

  1. 1 Jo Law
    June 15th, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    The traditional Japanese names for months are as follows (from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_calendar#Traditional_names):

    1. 1st month of the lunar calendar: 睦月 (mutsuki, affection month)
    2. 2nd month of the lunar calendar: 如月 or 衣更着 (kisaragi or kinusaragi, changing clothes)
    3. 3rd month of the lunar calendar: 弥生 (yayoi, new life; the beginning of spring)
    4. 4th month of the lunar calendar: 卯月 (uzuki, u-no-hana month; the u-no-hana is a flower, genus Deutzia)
    5. 5th month of the lunar calendar: 皐月 or 早苗月 (satsuki or sanaetsuki, early-rice-planting month)
    6. 6th month of the lunar calendar: 水無月 (minatsuki or minazuki, month of water—the 無 character, which normally means “not”, is here ateji, that is, used only for the sound “na”. In this name the na is actually a possessive particle, so Minazuki means “month of water”, not “month without water”, and some say this is in reference to the flooding of the rice fields. Some have suggested[who?], however, that the name “waterless month” would have been appropriate since this month would have been the month after the end of the monsoon rains.)
    7. 7th month of the lunar calendar: 文月 (fumizuki, book month)
    8. 8th month of the lunar calendar: 葉月 (hazuki, leaf month; In old Japanese, It’s called 葉落ち月(haochizuki). It means “leaves falling month”)[2]
    9. 9th month of the lunar calendar: 長月 (nagatsuki, long month)[2]
    10. 10th month of the lunar calendar: 神無月 (kaminazuki or kannazuki, “month without gods—but analogous to the name of the 6th month, the 無 character here could be the same possessive particle “na”, making this “month of the gods”) In Izumo province, modern-day Shimane Prefecture, this is emended to 神有月 or 神在月 (kamiarizuki, roughly “month with gods”), as all the gods are believed to gather there for an annual meeting at the Izumo Shrine.
    11. 11th month of the lunar calendar: 霜月 (shimotsuki, frost month)
    12. 12th month of the lunar calendar: 師走 (shiwasu, priests run; -priests are busy making end of year prayers and blessings.)