Autumn Harvest Festivals Around Asia
The process of harvesting refers to the gathering of ripe crops from the fields, which happens in the autumn months. This labour-intensive task of the growing season is widely celebrated around the world, with many harvest festivals holding significant social importance for many countries, mainly because of its links to religion.
The Origins of Food Festivals in Asia
Food and culture have had a long and thrilling journey. Beginning their relationship as an essential element for human survival, the love of food has developed for every culture around the world and is celebrated in numerous ways globally. Perhaps the most renowned way of homage is through the festivals that bring communities together in their praise of food.
The Chinese have always had a strong connection with food, dating back to some 2,000 years ago when the Chinese placed symbolism on the food products they consumed. The symbolism ranged from anything from traditions and beliefs to superstitions that were deduced from the name, shape, colours, tastes of the food, as well as the legends evident at the time. The symbolism of food has survived the test of time in China, and even to this day, Chinese dishes consider the meanings of the products they use in their dishes and when are the best occasions to eat them. The love of food for the Chinese began the tradition of the Mid-Autumn Festival which is now held in many Asian cultures.
Japan’s festivals are referred to in Japanese as Matsuri, Sairei(rites) or Saishi (religious service). The origins of festivals in this country derive from worshipping Shinreikon (the spirit of God) and have roots within Buddhist customs. Whilst Japan does not have any specific days allocated to their festivals, and dates can differ from place to place; there are many festivals that focus on the traditional holidays of Buddhism (Obon) or the days before spring (Setsubun). Whilst autumn sees at least one festival, similar to that of the Miki Autumn Harvest Festival later described in this feature, to celebrate the harvesting of rice in many Japanese areas.
The Mid-Autumn Festival
The Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated in many Asian countries but widely praised by ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese people. The festivals fall on the 15th day of the 8th month, according to the Gregorian calendar, which usually places it anywhere between late September and early October. The festival is important to the Chinese, so much so, that in 2008 it was recognised as a public holiday. The Mid-Autumn Festival’s origins have strong roots within ancient China, and because of its strong cultural influence across many parts of Asia throughout history, it became important to many other Asian countries. Its holiday status is therefore also apparent in other places such as Hong Kong, Taiwan and Vietnam, and the Vietnamese consider it one of the most important holiday traditions within their culture.
The Mid-Autumn Festival brings together friends and family for a reunion, and this is symbolised within the meaning of the food offerings of the festival. Typical food offerings include mooncakes, which refer to the unity of family because of their circular shape. For this same reason, pomelos are also enjoyed during this time.
Miki Autumn Harvest Festival, Japan
As previously mentioned, many areas of Japan hold a festival to celebrate the harvesting of rice; an example includes the Miki Autumn Harvest Festival. Miki is a town situated within the Kita District of Kagawa Prefecture in Japan. The town boasts a population of around 27,835 citizens, and the origins of the town began in October 1954 when a merger was arranged between the town of Hirai and the surrounding villages of Tanaka, Shimotakaoka, Kamiyama and Hikami.
The Miki Autumn Harvest Festival is held during the time of the rice harvest in October in the Japanese village of Miki. The harvest is presented to the Omiya Hachiman Shrine to show appreciation to the gods who have provided bountiful crops for the autumn and winter months. The locals will dress in happi, a traditional straight-sleeved coat, that displays their town logo and carry shrines that weigh an astonishing two tonnes, known as Futon-Yatai-Daiko, upon their shoulders. Because of the weight of these impressive shrines, it takes 60 local volunteers to carry them.
The importance of rice in many Japanese diets, as a staple food of the country, is epitomised through festivals such as this around many areas of Japan. To celebrate the autumn harvest yourself, why not make some authentic Japanese rice-based meals? We are one of the UK’s best Japanese supermarkets, providing people around the nation with a wide variety of oriental products for their Asian-inspired dishes.
Image credit: Mti, available under creative commons.