One day in late February, the inhabitants of the Bamboo Bathhouse sat around the breakfast table discussing the current ‘ko*’ or 5-day seasonal marker, which Kiku had discovered read ‘haze appears’ [霞始靆]. It was the middle marker in the sekki* known as ‘Usui’ [雨水] or ‘Rainwater’.
Although the modern Japanese translation often describes the marker as mist appearing, the last character in Chinese means not clear or cloudy, and so it could also be understood as ‘haze/ mist begins to obscure’.
Boss Panda explained that as the often-dry Tokyo winter moved into spring, the amount of moisture in the air began to build, and this combined with fine dust particles created seasonal mists that hovered, often blurring familiar scenery. The mental and visual imagery of such partial concealment had inspired many artists and poets in Japan – spring haze being known as kasumi [霞] or oboro [朧] and long established ‘kigo**’ [季語] or ‘season words’ – a word or phrase used to denote a particular season in traditional forms of Japanese poetry such as haiku. Kasumi is always understood as a spring haze or mist, with ‘kiri’ describing the fog of autumn and winter.
One such haiku by the poet Issa (1763 – 1828) reads:
[yoakete mo oboro nari keri sumida-gawa]
Even at dawn
spring haze hovers…
The next morning, inspired by the poem, Boss Panda took Kiku and Miko-chan for a little stroll along the Sumida River in Asakusa, where indeed the haze had softened a well known riverside view of the city…
*Sekkis, Kos and The Fox Almanac
Kiku has been working on translating an old Japanese seasonal almanac given to him by Boss Panda. Originally from China, the recordings within it were changed long ago to more accurately reflect the seasonal transitions in central Honshu, the main island of Japan, where Tokyo is located. Closely linked to agriculture, the system divides the solar year into 24 segments called ‘sekki’ and each of these has a concise title that gives a general indication of the season. Each sekki is divided further into three five-day segments called ‘ko’ (climates). Each ko has an observation noted for the five days – a change in insect or plant behaviour for example, and Kiku is working his way through them, hoping that by following the little seasonal changes as remarked on in the almanac, he will come to have a better understanding of Japan, a country where seasonal foods and customs are still very familiar to many. He calls his own version the ‘fox almanac’ or in Japanese the ‘Kitsune no shichijuniko’ (Fox’s 72 climates).
**Information on kigo season words from worldkigodatabase.blogspot.co.uk