Sunday Supplement: Kaminazuki

神無月

If you need help with exams, blessings for your marriage, or good favor for your newborn baby, you’re out of luck. Sorry — try again next month.

This is the tenth month, or jugatsu (十月). It’s also known as kaminazuki (神無月), or “the month without gods.” This is the month where all the Shinto gods vacate their homes — the shrines, mountains, rivers, trees, and countless other places where they reside — and convene in Western Japan, at the Izumo Taisha (and only in Izumo, by the way, is the month called kamiarizuki [神有り月] or “the month with gods”). There, I imagine, they have a raucous party, drinking all the sake offered throughout the year and perhaps have a cookout. It’s gotta be lonely and frustrating sometimes, stuck in some big tree in the middle of a forest, bestowing benediction on the very occasional hiking grandma.

Let’s hope this retreat sees all those gods refreshed and ready for work in the eleventh month. The backlog’s going to be killer.

Selena HOY
October 12, 2008

Selena likes long walks, candlelight, and virgin margaritas.

7 Responses

  1. Matt TREYVAUD Says:

    Fun fact: The word “Kaminazuki” originally meant month OF gods (the /na/ was a vowel-bent variant of /no/). Same goes for Minazuki (month of water). No-one remembers or cares any more, though… and why should they, when the new story is this good?

  2. selena Says:

    hi matt,

    did they also change the character 無 when they changed the meaning? and if so, i’m curious to know how they wrote it.

  3. Matt TREYVAUD Says:

    I think the earliest it appears in writing is in the Man’yoshu, and there it’s always 十月, to be pronounced かむなづき. Presumably by the time they got around to assigning the kanji 神無月 (had to be Heian or earlier), everyone had forgotten that /na/ was a kind of /no/ (because whatever forces were driving that variant had vanished by then), so they just picked the kanji that seemed most likely.

    There’s no smoking scroll or anything, but since there are other words showing the same pattern (minato = 水の戸, manako = 目の子, etc.) and none (?) that include a /na(i)/ used like that, that’s the current best guess.

    But, meh. Words mean exactly what the population who use them think they do. If people have been understanding it as “month of no gods” for a thousand years, that’s as real as any other part of Japanese culture. The rest is just historical curiosity. Didn’t mean to derail!

  4. selena Says:

    hi matt,
    interesting point, thanks. i admit that my man’yoshu is a little rusty – haven’t looked at it since school. however, between the time of collecting and putting down the texts (700-something) and early heian (late 700s or so), the current wisdom says that the scholars of the time had forgotten the variant to the point of reversing the meaning entirely? sloppy. i’d be interested to check out some of the poems that include the early reading, especially if they provide any context clues.

  5. Matt TREYVAUD Says:

    This is the site I always use to search the ‘shu (as we called it growing up tough on the street). I don’t know exactly when the kanji made the scene but I think they’re in the Genji Monogatari at least.

  6. Ryan Says:

    Hi Selena (and Matt).

    Apparently one god remains at home in this tenth month of the lunar calendar– the binbōgami, or “genius/god of poverty.” Here’s a kyōka poem from the 1783 collection “Thousand Centuries of Kyōka” that mentions the kannazuki month.

    いつはりのある世なりけり神無月 貧乏神は身をもはなれぬ. (万歳狂歌集, Part 6, 1783)

    My rough translation:

    Oh, world filled with deceit: Though it’s the Kannazuki month, the god of poverty won’t let me alone.

  7. spirulina Says:

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