Micro-season 22

蚕起食桑 Kaiko okite kuwa o hamu :
Silkworms start feasting on mulberry leaves.

小満 Shōman (Lesser ripening): May 21-25

Shōman is one of the twenty four seasonal points. By now it is getting much warmer and many plants are growing well. By late May, the fresh, new green leaves have started to turn a darker green color. Traditionally this is also the time when the little cuckoo hototogisu starts to chirp. I have a […]

Micro-season 21

竹笋生 Takenoko shōzu :
Bamboo shoots appear.

立夏 Rikka (Beginning of Summer): May 15-20

For many years now, I have enjoyed participating in a monthly book club, whose members are committed to reading many of the Japanese literary classics in translation. It took us three years to investigate the 1000+ page tome “The Tale of Genji” Genji Monogatari: widely considered to be the world’s first novel and one of […]

Micro-season 20

蚯蚓出 Mimizu izuru :
Earthworms rise.

立夏 Rikka (Beginning of Summer): May 10-14

One of my seminal memories of the early days in Kyoto, occurred on a Thursday morning in mid May some thirty years ago. I had been visiting my landlady Yamauchi-san for a cup of tea when a kindly, older Japanese gentleman (widely reputed to be the octogenarian’s boyfriend), paid a visit. Unbenownst to me he […]

Micro-season 19

蛙始鳴 Kawazu hajimete naku :
Frogs start singing.

立夏 Rikka (Beginning of Summer): May 5-9

One of my favorite traditional events of the year comes at the end of the national public holiday called Golden Week. The seasonal celebration known as “Boy’s Day” originated at some point during the Kamakura (1185-1336) period with the rise of the Samurai warrior class. However, the fifth day of the fifth month has had […]

Micro-season 18

牡丹華 Botan hana saku :
Peonies Bloom.

穀雨 Kokuu (Grain rains): April 30-May 4

Nothing quite prepares you for the majesty of a peony in full bloom. The extraordinary frill of petals reminds me of amongst other things, a lion’s mane. There are numerous horticultural varieties of peony but the most decorative cultivar known as the “King of Flowers” is the Tree peony botan (Paeonia suffructicosa).There is much variation […]

Micro-season 17

霜止出苗 Shimo yamite nae izuru :
Last frost, rice seedlings grow.

穀雨 Kokuu (Grain rains): April 25-29

Japanese gardens tend to be characterized by an evergreen palette of plants in which bright colors or scents are not foregrounded. Even the frothy pink confection that is the wonder of the cherry blossom in April is typically white or the palest pink. Late April which signals the end of Spring in the lunar calendar […]

Micro-season 16

虹始見 Ashi hajimete shōzu :
First reeds sprout.

穀雨 Kokuu (Grain rains): April 20-24

The king of climbing plants in Japanese gardens is the wisteria fuji. During late April through early May, wild wisteria blooms profusely in mountains across Japan. In temples and residential gardens, wisterias are trained on large wooden frames fuji-dana . Even in tiny gardens, it is not unusual to see wisteria gracefully hanging over the […]

Micro-season 15

虹始見 Niji hajimete arawaru :
First rainbows.

清明 Seimei (Pure and clear): April 15-19

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 […]

Micro-season 14

鴻雁北 Kōgan kaeru :
Wild Geese Fly North.

清明 Seimei (Pure and Clear) April 10-14

What is it about yellow flowers that always inspires feelings of happiness and warmth? Perhaps it is hardly surprising given the associative relationship with the sun. The brightest of the chromatic colors, yellow suggests cheerful hope and clarity of spirit. Certainly I always feel this way when I come across displays of the yellow kerria […]

Micro-season 13

玄鳥至 Tsubame kitaru :
Swallows return.

清明 Seimei (Pure and clear) April 5-9

Now that the cherry blossoms have well and truly passed, a cavalcade of flowering plants start to flourish. What I am noticing in larger scale gardens like the Imperial Palace and the Kyoto Botanical Gardens are two varieties of tall, deciduous Magnolia with exquisitely large lily shaped flowers. The deep pink variety mokuren blooms before […]

Micro-season 12

雷乃発声 Kaminari Sunawachi Koe o Hassu :
Thunder Raises its Voice

春分 Shunbun (Spring Equinox) March 31-April 4

Remarkably, Camellias tsubaki are still blooming at the beginning of April. Their long flowering season begins in November and over the long Winter to early Spring period (when very little else is blooming), Camellias are usually the primary focus of chabana “tea ceremony flower arrangement”. They are usually accompanied by a branch with buds or […]

Micro-season 11

櫻始開 Sakura hajimete saku :
First cherry blossoms.

春分 Shunbun (Spring Equinox) March 26-30

“Cherry blossoms, oh cherry blossoms Across the spring skies As far as the eyes can see Fragrant in the air Come now, come now Let’s go and see them…” So say the lyrics of the traditional Japanese folksong often sung in international settings as the unofficial national anthem. Every year Japan waits with feverish anticipation […]