According to the old Japanese lunisolar calendar, the tenth month of the year is Kannazuki or Kaminashizuki, the Month When There Are No Gods, as it was believed that during this month all of the deities would leave their homes and gather in Izumo to discuss what had happened over the last year. A bit like an annual deity convention, where we imagine Susa-no-o gets drunk, embarrasses Amaterasu until she hides in her room again, and then shows off his big sword.
If you happen to be in Izumo, the Hotel Marriott of Japanese gods, the tenth month is instead called Kamiarizuki, or the Month When There Are Gods. It might be a bit literal, but at least it gets the point across clearly, right? And, of course, we’re in the middle of the tenth month now! So there are quite a few people making their way to Izumo to enjoy a bit of nature and maybe catch a few hungover deities late for a workshop.
But people aren’t the only ones making a stop by Izumo–last week three Suns appeared in the sky over the shrine!
Okay, that was a bit misleading, there was only one Sun in the sky. No need to panic, the solar system hasn’t spontaneously spawned a few new stars–and if it had, you probably wouldn’t need us to tell you about it! Instead, something slightly less bizarre but equally awesome happened: Sundogs.
Also known by their more scientific name, “parhelion,” sundogs, or genjitsu 幻日 in Japanese, are essentially atmospheric optical phenomena that cause miniature suns to appear on either side of the real sun! They also look incredibly cool, though we’re not sure what the scientific term for that is…
While sundogs aren’t exactly unheard, they are rare enough–and beautiful enough–to attract a lot of attention on their own. But when they appear over Izumo during Kamiarizuki, you can imagine the kind of stir created. After all, it really does look as if a group of deities have just materialized in the sky.
As you can see in the pictures above, in addition to the sundogs, there were also some magnificent halos and circumzenithal arcs, which are basically inverted rainbows caused by “horizontally-oriented ice crystals” in the sky. While the sundogs certainly stole the show, it’s impossible to deny how ethereal and sublime all of the atmospheric phenomenon were.
While sundogs generally occur at the same distance above the horizon as the sun, circumzenithal arcs are a bit harder to spot since they tend to occur nearly overhead. Most people miss the fabulous day-time light show simply because, well, who spends their time staring straight up?! In fact, the skies over Tokyo are known to feature these arcs frequently, but they’re rarely witnessed. And for those of you living in the Kanto area, please don’t take to staring straight up into the sky–it’ll make you look weird and possibly burn out your eyes! At least that’s what our mothers told us.
While these phenomenon are incredible to behold even in pictures, they are not, unfortunately, signs from any sorts of deities. Instead, they are testaments to the beauty of refraction, reflection, dispersion, and diffraction when sunlight (or sometimes even moonlight) hits water particles, ice crystals, or clouds in the atmosphere. Still, knowing how the science works does nothing to diminish how gorgeous they are, does it?
Though maybe it’s a good time to take a trip to Izumo to pray, just in case. But we better do it quickly, before all the gods go back home!
We found a few more sundog pictures online. They’re not from Japan, but they’re simply too stunning not to share!
▼ The sky is unbelievable at the South Pole!
▼ Minnesota has a lot of sky to fill, and these sundogs are doing a good job of it.
▼ The most amazing part here is that someone was in North Dakota to take the picture.
▼ Finally, a brief (30-second) video of some sundogs near the South Pole.