Before the year 1873 in the 6th year of the Meiji era, the calendar system used in Japan was called the kyuureki (旧暦) which is literally translated as “old calendar” or also known as the lunisolar calendar.
Despite the prevalence of the Gregorian calendar these days, the kyuureki is still widely used for traditional festivals and events and in fields such as fortune-telling. In the kyuureki, months are known by special terms as described in the list below:
January: Mutsuki (睦月)
February: Kisaragi (如月)
March: Yayoi (弥生)
April: Uzuki (卯月)
May: Satsuki (皐月)
June: Minazuki (水無月)
July: Fumizuki (文月)
August: Hazuki (葉月)
September: Nagatsuki (長月)
October: Kannazuki (神無月)
November: Shimotsuki (霜月)
December: Shiwasu (師走)
Wagashi (和菓子) is a term which refers to traditional Japanese confectionery which is usually served with tea. There are three main categories of wagashi based on the production methods and the amount of moisture i.e. namagashi (生菓子), han-namagashi (半生菓子) and higashi (干菓子). Within these groups, the wagashi can be further classified under various sub-categories. Here are some of the representative wagashi for each month in the kyuureki.
In case you are wondering why I am introducing the concepts of kyuureki and wagashi, that’s because of the close relationships between the two. Japan, being a country of four seasons, boasts of a wide variety of agricultural produce over the course of a year so depending on the season when you are in the country, there are different things you can taste. Likewise, depending on the month of the kyuureki, there are signature wagashi items which have its roots traced back in time and possess special meaning to represent the season or traditions of the olden days.
In the month of October (Kannazuki), there are various signature wagashi items on sale only during this period. Among them, the inokomochi which is shaped like a pig has special significance because October is also known as the month of the pig in the zodiac calendar.
Legend has it that the kannazuki originated from a Chinese belief that by eating this at 10 pm (the hour of the pig) on a day of the pig in the month of the Pig, it will bring about a blessed life with no illness and disaster thus this custom started in the Heian era in the Imperial Court. In the first volume of the novel “Genji Monogatari” by Japanese novelist, poet and lady-in-waiting Murasaki Shikibu, the inokomochi was described as being made from seven types of powder i.e. soybean, azuki bean, cowpea, sesame, chestnut, persimmon and sugar.
Later on in the Kamakura era, the custom spread to the samurai families where the inokomochi’s significance took on a different meaning as pigs were seen as a sign of fertility thus eating this meant that the family could have many descendants. By the Edo era, the first Pig day in the Kannazuki was designated as the day of the Gencho (玄猪) thus people would eat this wagashi on this day. As a result, the inokomochi is also known as Genchomochi (玄猪餅).
Nowadays, the inokomochi is usually on sale in the month of November which coincides with the Kannazuki and is made with mochi skin with azuki bean filling and shaped into a pig before being coated with kinako (soybean) powder. If you are in Japan within this period, do visit a wagashi shop and try this for yourself!