In the heavy evening heat of early August, Kiku and Miko-chan were sitting on the front steps of the Bamboo Bathhouse, listening to the sounds of the street, when they were startled by a sudden very heavy rain shower.
As they stood watching from behind the noren entry curtain, they noticed that the rain only fell on one side of the street, making large puddles at the front steps, but leaving the road dry further down, leaving a visible dark line.
Boss Panda called to them from inside the bathhouse. “Little ones! Its time for a lesson!” The pair rain excitedly inside, for they loved learning about the Japanese language with the old bear, and were also keen to tell him about the strange phenomenon they had just witnessed with the rain outside.
As they both rushed to tell him, he began to smile and said, “what perfect timing! Today’s lesson is about the kanji for rain, and the number of words in Japanese for rain”.
Kiku looked confused “there is more than one word for rain?” he asked. Boss Panda nodded, “The people of Japan have a great affinity for rain, so much so that there could be up to a thousand different words or word combinations describing rain and its characteristics!”
The two friends looked at each other in disbelief. “A THOUSAND???” they both said at the same time, and then looking at each other, burst out laughing.
Boss Panda opened the seasonal almanac, which announced that the current micro season (from 3rd to 7th August) was entitled ‘Heavy rain sweeps through at times’. “Sudden heavy rain that falls on a summer evening is called Yuudachi”, he explained, “and there is a Japanese saying that ‘sudden summer rain divides the horses back’ (夕立は馬の背を分ける).
“What!?” exclaimed Kiku – “what on earth does that mean?” But Miko-chan’s face lit up. “Kiku-kun! It is describing what we just saw – rain falling in one place but not another!” Boss Panda laughed “exactly that Miko-chan! When the rain starts suddenly during the summer months, it often falls in extremely localised areas – so leaving one side of the street (or a horses back) dry, whilst the other half is wet!”
Boss Panda took them over to the blackboard and wrote the kanji for rain, explaining that the kanji on its own was pronounced ‘ame/ あめ’ and was thought to have developed from a pictogram depicting rain drops falling from clouds or the heavens. It could also form a radical at the top of other kanji – some of which had an obvious connection to weather/ precipitation, such as:
Snow/ yuki – 雪
Frost/ shimo – 霜
Cloud/ kumo – 雲
Thunder/ kaminari – 雷
But also in words such as electricity: 電
Kiku wanted to know more about the words for rain, and so Boss Panda made them a worksheet with some examples, and they spent the next day discussing the different types.
Miko-chan especially liked the different rain colours described, like ‘silver bamboo rain’ but one type of rain particularly caught Kiku’s eye – sun-showers in Japanese are not only known as ‘tenkiame/天気雨’ but also as ‘fox rain’ (狐雨/ kitsune ame). Boss Panda explained that “you might hear an older person remark that it is a ‘Kitsune no Yomeiri/ 狐の嫁入り’which means ‘the fox’s wedding’, because when it rains but the sun is shining, it is believed in folklore that the foxes are using the rain to disguise their wedding ceremony”. Kiku’s mind began to wander as he thought again about his parents…
Kanji info from www.joyokanji.com
An interesting look at one of Hiroshige’s works depicting yuudachi can be found in an episode of ‘dive into ukiyo-e’ a series using rakugo storytelling to dive deeper into Japanese woodblock prints, shown on NHK World Japan. Rain colours are also discussed.
There is a work by Hokusai called “Kitsune no Yomeiri-zu/狐の嫁入図” or ‘picture of a foxes wedding’, which shows farmers rushing to get their crops in during a sudden shower, whilst a fox wedding is going on in the background.
Many different examples of rain can be found on japan-talk.com