In the Kyuureki (旧暦) which is also called the lunisolar calendar, November was previously called Shimotsuki (霜月). As the name suggests, this is the month when frost falls as the weather gets colder with each passing day. There are also other names which also refer to November although they may not be as commonly used or known e.g. Kagurazuki (神楽月 – the month where music and dance is offered to the Shinto gods), Kamikizuki (神帰月 – the month when the gods return from their gathering at Izumo Taisha in October) and Yukimachizuki (雪待月 – the month when people wait for snow to fall).
In the lunar calendar, the month of November is known as Nenotsuki (子のつき) or Shigetsu (子月) which means the month of the Rat. In the olden days, as Toji (冬至 Winter Solstice) falls within this month when the handle of the Hokuto Shichisei (北斗七星 the seven stars of the Big Dipper) is directly above the north, it was thus named as the first month in the 12 zodiac signs i.e. the Rat.
During Shimotsuki, one of the signature wagashi items to have would be kirizansho. This is a form of mochi-wagashi in stripes which is made of high-quality non-glutinous rice flour (上新粉 joshinko), sugar and Japanese pepper (山椒 sansho) thus you will be able to taste sweetness and spiciness at the same time. The kirizansho is sometimes sold together with a kumade (熊手 bamboo rake) which is decorated with various items and meant to be an auspicious object to bring good luck. It is usually sold on tori no hi (酉の日 day of the Rooster) in November at the tori no ichi (酉の市 Rooster Market) festival held at shrines. For students about to take entrance exams, this is said to be a must-have item to ensure their success. As for people doing business, the kumade is said to bring in prosperity thus it will be displayed at shops all the time. It is said that businessmen should buy a bigger kumade than what they had displayed in the previous year as a sign of their growing businesses.
As for the method to make kirizansho, it may differ slightly across different wagashi makers but the general procedure is that the sugar and sansho are mixed together first before being added to the joshinko. The resulting mixture is then steamed to become somewhat like mochi where it is cooled and shaped into a rectangle. Subsequently, it is then cut into small stripes. Due to its significance as a good-luck item, kirizansho usually comes in white and pink which are auspicious colours in Japan. Of course, there are wagashi makers who make slightly different versions due to the addition of ingredients such as brown sugar so don’t be surprised if the kirizansho you buy comes in a colour other than pink or white.
How about having some kirizansho while you are in Japan during this season?