On September 9, or the 9th day of the 9th month, is a special day for the Kamigamo shrine in Kyoto. They hold the annual “chōyō no sekku” (重陽) or Chrysanthemum Festival. After the Chrysanthemum ceremony in the main shrine, a priest holding a bow and arrow near the sand mounds, called “tatezuna”, in front of the Hosodono pavilion leaps in a sideways motion and emits a cawing sound like a crow in a unique manner.
Now it is time for the local children from the neighbourhood to hold a contest in Karasu Sumō (烏相撲) or “Crow sumō”. It is quite an event that draws a considerable amount of spectators, local TV stations and a wide variety of photographers with an even wider assortment of equipment. The boys that participate are quite skinny compared to their professional counterparts, its very fun to watch and the crowd is very lively with their support for the youngsters.
The Karasu Sumō competition is held in front of the Hosodono pavilion of Kamigamo Shrine. Things do get excited as the Sumō bouts continue, with parents and neighbours cheering their boys on. Watching the spectacle unfold, is the Saiō-Dai lady with two chaperones and head priests of the Kamigamo Shrine.
The role of the Saiō-Dai is played by an unmarried woman in Kyoto. She would be dressed in the traditional style of the Heian court. She would be wearing a kimono called “jūnihitoe” twelve layers of exquisitely coloured silk robes.
This identification with crows is due to the fact that the Kamo clan are supposedly descendants of the Yatakarasu (八咫烏) (the crow sent from heaven to guide Emperor Jinmu in his campaign to establish the Yamato kingdom).
As a bonus, the actual event at the Kamigamo Shrine is free of charge, a free cup of Chrysanthemum Sake ( 菊の酒) will be offered to the visitors that attend this special festival. One more reason to attend.
Chrysanthemums were introduced into Japan around the 8th century AD, and Emperor Go Toba (後鳥羽) (1180-1239) adopted this flower as his official seal.
The association of chrysanthemums with long life was imported from China along with their use in the longevity festival on the Ninth of the Ninth Month, which at the time fell some time in what’s now October. According to Chinese folklore, drinking the dew off a chrysanthemum retarded ageing or even, in some circumstances, granted immortality. Strictly speaking the wish is “for a (very) long time,” but the effect (especially combined with “not ageing”) is close to “forever.” See All Pictures Here!