When the little fox Kiku came down to breakfast on the morning of the 18th August he noticed that the calendar on the wall had a graphic of Tokyo that was being partially obscured by low clouds. “I really like these stylised clouds, I have seen them in my illustrated copy of The Tale of Genji”.

Boss Panda looked up from reading the paper and smiled. “Yes indeed, those are often found in a particular kind of Japanese painting known as ‘yamato-e’ that were fully developed during the Heian period (794-1185) which is also when the Tale of Genji was written*.

They are used to ‘conceal’ a part of a picture so that you focus on the parts of the page that tell the story. Kiku thought for a moment and said “that is very Japanese – I often find that things are hidden from view, not only like this, but in feelings too”. Even though the little fox had now been living in Tokyo for more than five years, he still often found some things bewildering, and found that a lot of guesswork was sometimes required to figure out what was really meant in interactions with people.

Boss Panda let out a hearty laugh. “Indeed little one! Many things in Japanese society operate smoothly because we do not always say how we truly feel – sometimes the opposite of Western society where feelings are encouraged to be out in the open at all times!” The old bear pointed to the calendar and said “but there is also the quality of what we call ‘mikansei’ (未完成) – a certain incompleteness that provides additional layers of depth – encouraging the viewer to use their imagination to reveal a hidden reality. There are both positive and negative sides to concealment, and it is a very complex thing to navigate.”

Kiku looked back at the picture and thought that a clue to the calendar pictures meaning might be found in the seasonal almanac. Indeed, as he opened the page for the current marker, he could see that he had been right. The seasonal marker for the 18th to 22nd August was known as ‘blanket fog descends’.

He knew that there were many different words for mist and fog in Japanese – with certain types only referring to the mists of spring, and some very definitely autumnal, such as in this case.** As the water vapour of summer has begun to build up and the air is beginning to cool, large banks of fog can be seen touching the hills and tall buildings as the seasons turn.

He agreed with Boss Panda that it was nice to look out upon a scene partly obscured by fog, as your imagination could really soar…

Further Information

* The oldest surviving examples of yamato-e are fragments from handscrolls depicting the Tale of Genji from the 12th century. They are periodically on display (for about a week each autumn) in the Gotoh Museum in Tokyo (one of the illustrations is in fact from the chapter called ‘evening mist’ (夕霧 yūgiri)). Other fragments are also periodically displayed at the Tokugawa Art Museum in Nagoya.

** Information from worldkigodatabase.blogspot.com:

‘As a general rule, the Japanese words kasumi and oboro are haze and mist of spring, whereas kiri is the fog of autumn and winter.’


  • Karen says:

    I particularly love this one Joanna… makes me feel very nostalgic for Japan… those fogs and mists in and around the mountains were pure magical poetry. You have captured a beautiful essence.