Now that we are advancing into the middle of Spring, the air is becoming progressively more humid and thus rain punctuates the clear air days. In the Japanese language, there are some fine shades of nuance when it comes to describing the feeling of different types of rain. It often depends on “how” the rain is experienced. What feelings are engendered by the falling rain. For example: “rain in Spring” translates as “haru no ame”. This can describe any kind of rain that falls in this season including cold, unpleasant rain. On the other hand, “harusame” or “Spring rain” is welcome and soft. It carries a delicate sentiment and has long been a theme for poems and songs. It refreshes nature and the human spirit. Since the Heian period (794-1185), there has been a trend to attach certain atmospheric conditions to emotions. Therefore harusame came to be associated with a romantic or joyful feeling in Spring.
“Green spring rain gives its color to the willows lining the banks of Hirosawa pond”
In the 17th century, haiku poetry became popular as a literary and cultural genre. It required the use of seasonal words kigo and, by implication the knowledge of seasonal topics kidai. By the end of the 17th century, the seasonal words in haiku formed a vast pyramid whose apex was capped by the most familiar topics of classical waka poetry from the Heian period. Harusame became one of the kigo for Spring. From the most famous of all haiku poets Matsuo Basho we hear:
“Spring rain- two leaves sprout from the eggplant seedling”
A famous linguist in Japan was known to have remarked on the particularity of “Spring rain”:
“Harusame falls only in Kyoto. It is rain that comes from below the ground. This rain is nothing like the stiff, hard rain that falls in Tokyo”.
Until living in Kyoto, it had never occurred to me to consider rain as anything other than an irksome nuisance.It is also the case that after harusame, we can usually see a soft rainbow and since ancient times this observation led to the description of the fifteenth micro-season as “first rainbows”.
The steady drizzle of harusame also nourishes the fresh green leaves of the maple momiji tree in this season. There is a particular word that poetically describes the emerging maple leaf color. It is called moegi. The leaves signal an important seasonal transition as this color is short lived. The green of the leaves darkens as they grow larger in summer.
It’s interesting that in the last decade, public appreciation of the fresh green has started to be commercialized by temples and sightseeing spots in Kyoto, using advertising campaigns to draw visitors to places that were previously draw cards only for the autumnal tints in late November. The buzzword used to lure tourists is aomomiji or “green maples”. People are appreciating more and more the invigorating and rejuvenating effects that fresh green leaves can bring.