Micro-season 5

霞始靆 Kasumi hajimete tanabiku:
Mists start to linger.

雨水 Usui Rainwater: February 24-28

What a fantastic afternoon it turned out to be visiting my friend Richard’s garden in Northern Kyoto recently. The garden is a jewel box of traditional design which despite its modest dimensions is lavish with magnificent stone features, an ornamental pond and three statuesque 70 year old black pine trees kuromatsu. Winter is one of […]

Micro-season 4

土脉潤起 Tsuchi no shō uruoi okoru :
Rain moistens the soil.

雨水 Usui February 19-23

We are now at the beginning of Usui: “rain water” which is the second seasonal point after Risshun: “beginning of Spring”. Even though it remains cold on many days, it is also acknowledged that the warmer Spring air is finally starting to stir thereby awakening a new cycle of plant growth. The poetic phrase that […]

Micro-season 3

魚上氷 Uo kōri o izuru :
Fish emerge from the ice.

立春 Risshun Beginning of Spring

Although the concept of the micro-seasons is both ancient and timeless, I confess to being challenged to remain completely faithful to all the poetic phrases that so eloquently describe each moment in the annual cycle. Especially as an urban dweller in the 21st century, I had to rack my brains as to where I was […]

Micro-season 2

黄鶯睍睆 Kōō kenkan su:
Bush warblers start singing.

立春 Risshun Beginning of Spring: February 9-13

After a gloriously balmy weekend of 20 degrees celsius it was quite a shock to return to -2 degrees this morning. When I ventured outside I was met by the slightest drift of snowflakes. Although it is “officially” spring and there is some evidence of budding in plants, it still feels like a “tug-o-war” between […]

Micro-season 1

東風解凍 Harukaze kōri o toku:
East wind melts the ice.

立春 Risshun Beginning of Spring

Even though it is still cold, today is thought to be the first official day of Spring in the ancient lunar calendar. It marks the beginning of risshun; one of the twenty four seasonal points sekki. Psychologically, the image of a warm wind blowing from the east that starts to gradually melt the ice that […]

Micro-season 72

鶏始乳 Niwatori hajimete toya ni tsuku:
Hens start laying eggs.

大寒 Daikan Major Cold

When spring is sensed, it is traditionally thought that the chicken will start laying her eggs and so it is only appropriate that this animal is determined to herald the transition between the seasons. The end of hibernation also becomes tangible with the observance of the Setsubun festival in Kyoto. The day before the official […]

Micro-season 71

水沢腹堅Sawamizu kōri tsumeru:
Ice thickens on streams.

大寒 Daikan Major Cold

Daikan is one of the twenty four seasonal points and is traditionally thought to be the coldest time of the year. It is a period that is particularly challenging for this long term foreign resident born and raised on the sunny west coast of Australia that is blessed with a Mediterranean climate. But it is […]

Micro-season 70

款冬華 Fuki no hana saku:
Butterburs bud

大寒 Daikan Major Cold

Let me tell you the story of the Butterbur sometimes known as Coltsfoot bud. I first encountered this vegetable thirty years ago at a fancy traditional Japanese restaurant that served them as tempura. Their slightly bitter grassy aroma contrasted well with the lightest oily crunch and were a definite highlight of the meal. However, when […]

Micro-season 69

雉始雊 Kiji hajimete naku:
Pheasants Start to Call

小寒 Shōkan Minor Cold

The noble pheasant has always been valued for its gorgeous plumage and prized as a source of food. It is also a symbol of masculinity and courage and was adopted as the national bird of Japan in 1947. It has been used to decorate the highest denomination banknote in the Japanese currency, roughly equivalent to […]

Micro-season 68

水泉動 Shimizu atataka o fukumu:
Springwater Holds Warmth

小寒 Shōkan (Lesser Cold): January 10-14

From an ethnographic point of view, it is significant that the final rituals of the Japanese year involve Buddhist temples throughout Japan ringing out the “old” year on temple bells during the last fifteen minutes before midnight. One can assume that the image and mood transmitted through this ritual is symbolic of “death”. And at […]