Summer clean up, eat Minazuki

June 30, 2015 Juju Kurihara 0 Comments

Today, 30th of June, people in Kyoto eat a wagashi (和菓子) called, Minazuki (水無月). The day is called Ooharae (大祓え), which is the day of purifying sins and bad lucks. This Shinto ritual is held twice a year, the 30th of June and the 30th of December.  
Minazuki is the typical wagashi eaten for Ooharae in June. This triangle sweet is made of rice flour mochi and azuki bean on top. This is not as heavy as mochi and quite refreshing. You may think this is just an excuse for Japanese people to eat more sweets. But that´s not quite right. 
This originated to Muromachi era (室町時代, 1336-1573). On the 1st of June of the lunar calendar was an annual event in the Court and it was called, koori no sekku (氷の節句/Festival of ice). 1st of June in the lunar calendar is 27th of June in the current calendar. End of June is the beginning of summer. It must have been very hot in Kyoto back then without any air conditioners. So this day, the shogun or the noble people had ice delivered and put it in the mouth to cope with the heat.
Where did they get the ice in the 14th century? Old Japanese people built a hut called, Himuro (氷室/icehouse) on the location where is relatively cool all through the year and kept snow or ice from the winter. They also used caves for the same purpose. 
In the time when there was no electricity, you can imagine how difficult it must have been to keep the ice without melting. Needless to say, ice was a valuable and luxurious food and there was no chance that common people would have it. Instead, they made a sweet in the shape of ice piece and ate it to feel the coolness. Azuki beans decorated on the top is believed to protect people from bad spirits.  
Minazuki was a creation of ancient Japanese common people who wanted to refresh themselves to deal with the hot summer and to clean up their sins and bad lucks just like noble people.  Thank to them, now Japanese people in this present moment can enjoy wagashi to respect the tradition. 



By the way, the name Minazuki is the old name of June. It´s written 水無月, which can be read the month (月) with no (無) water (水). But June in Japan is a rainy month. Why is it?
It actually means the month of water and they used the kanji, 無 for の (of). This is the time the farmers fill the rice field with water. Also it´s the rainy season for Japan. The ancient Japanese named June because it´s the month abundant in water. 
Are you ready for the summer? Eat Minazuki and enjoy with clean and healthy body and soul!
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