Summer Solstice (Geshi 夏至)
Around June 21 is Geshi 夏至 (the Summer Solstice). The day when the daytime is the longest and night is shortest.
In japan unlike other solar events very little happens by way of celebration. The Spring/autumnal equinox are called Ohigan or Higan and along with the Winter solstice these are more important than the summer solstice especially the winter solstice because it means revival of the Sun.
There is one significant Shinto ritual that takes place involving the Meoto Iwa rocks at dawn on Summer Solstice. The Meoto Iwa (“Married Couple Rocks”) are two giant rocks on the sea shore of Futami, Ise. Meoto-iwa is close to Grand shrine of ISE. (Head of Japan’s all nature worship)
They have deep spiritual significance as Shinto is known as nature worship. The rocks are linked by a huge shimenawa straw rope and the largest rock has a tori gate. Both of these things represent that the Meoto Iwa rocks belong to the world of kami.
The best English translation of kami is ‘spirits’, but this is an over-simplification of a complex concept – kami can be elements of the landscape or forces of nature.
On the summer solstice the sun appears to rise right between the rocks. At daybreak, hundreds of Shintoists will also greet the Sun before the great rocks and enter the ocean as the sun rises between the rocks in a ceremony called Geshisai – literally, “Summer Solstice Rite.” Participants of this ceremony purify their body in the sea and watch the sunrise while singing Japan’s national anthem called Kimigayo.
Religious purification with water is called Misogi in Shinto. You may have done this yourself when entering a Shinto shrine washing your hands and mouth.
The end of June is very much a time for purification rituals in japan.
Minazuki is the name of the white triangle shaped wagashi (Japanese sweet) that is eaten on the 30th of June.
It is taken from a Shinto ritual called Ooharae on the 30th of June and the 30th of December for the purification of sins and bad luck from the first or second half of the year.
The triangle shape is meant to resemble a block of ice ( chasing away the summer heat) and the azuki beans signify the exorcism of devils.
You may also see at Shinto shrines rings of straw called Chinowa (the ring of purification)
People walk through a ring of straw for purification.
Around this time is the peak of the rice-planting season. In old lore, the long, straggly roots of the rice plant were thought to resemble octopus legs. Thus, in the Kansai region in particular, people eat octopus at this time of year as a good omen. One meal that is popular Is octopus and ginger rice as well as fried octopus.
With this in mind I decided to make a vegan version of this summer solstice meal.
Ginger rice made with fresh ginger juice and Vegan calamari with a squeeze of lemon and wasabi vegan mayonnaise .
I made the vegan version of calamari with hearts of palm. If you’re concerned about the sustainability of heart of palms, rest assured that, unlike some palm oils, most canned varieties of this veggie comes from farmed peach palms.
Just slice the canned hearts of palm and push out the centre to form a ring. Coat in potato starch and shallow fry. The ginger rice was made by adding ginger juice, mirin and tamari into the cooking water of the rice.
Also served with a Japanese potato salad and a cucumber and Myoga Tsukemono.
As a sunny dessert I chose a delicious mango jelly wagashi from minamoto kitchoan you can also freeze this jelly for a refreshing sherbet.
The traditional Japanese micro seasonal calendar breaks down as follows:
Four seasons 四季 / shiki break down into 24 sub seasons 二十四節気 / nijyushisekki and further into 72 micro seasons 七十二候 / shichijyunikou.
If you would like to read more about The 10th sub season of the year 夏至 Geshi (Summer solstice) breaking down into further micro seasons:
June 21–26 乃東枯 Natsukarekusa karuru Self-heal withers
June 27–July 1 菖蒲華 Ayame hana saku Irises bloom
July 2–6 半夏生 Hange shōzu Crow-dipper sprouts
Read the micro seasonal post relating to this which you can find on the drop down menu.