Fukuoka Now intern Tomo Greer visited Gokoku Jinja on January 7 to taste nanakasu-gayu.
Today, the 7th of January is Nanakusa no Hi. Nanakusa refers to seven herbs or seven grasses that are eaten together on this day as okayu (rice porridge) for good health for the rest of the year. The herbs typically include water dropwort, shepherd’s purse, cudweed, chickweed, nipplewort, turnip and radish. It is also a great day of detox for your stomach following over-indulgence on New Year’s osechi. Interestingly, It was a national holiday during the Edo period.
A crowd lined up this morning at Gokoku Jinja to fill their stomachs with this nutritious rice porridge, including an excited class of children from the local kindergarten. Inside the shrine, gagaku (a type of sacred shinto music) played to add to the customary practice of the day.
Before the nanakusa-gayu was served up, the children sang a traditional song about nanakusa at the front of the line, and the shrine officials blessed the food stand and the food itself.
A little boy around the age of seven was put in charge of directing members of the public to seats. He told me very passionately, and with excellent manners, that he volunteers for all the shrine events as part of his after school activity kyogen – a type of naraigoto that encourages children to learn about traditional Japanese practices and rituals. He politely bowed to all the members of the public and thanked them for coming.
The guji (head priest) of the shrine told me this event initially began 32 years ago, with the view of preserving the tradition of nanakusa no sekku. It would appear that increasingly less young Japanese people are interested in rituals of shintoism, and the kyogen boy that I had talked to was a rare exception.
Here and there, mothers were growling at their children, telling them they had to finish the nanakusa-gayu. Smiles on the childrens’ faces eventually turned into a bitter expression to accompany the bitterness of the herbs in the soup, and the parents patiently waited for the children to finish every rice grain in the bowl. Hopefully, these kids will do the same for their own children one day, and preserve this special ancient tradition for years to come.
If you feel like you’ve drank and eaten too much over the New Year period, or you want to start the new year with a healthy attitude, try out this traditional dish and start the year right! The seven herbs will be available at your local yaoya (vegetable shop) for the next few days.
Report by Tomo Greer for Fukuoka Now.