As the year began drawing to a close, Kiku was eager to see what natural markers were seen as described in the seasonal almanac*.
For the five-day ‘ko’ beginning on the 16th December, the Chinese characters in the almanac indicated that a specific kind of fish was expected to be ‘flocking together’.
Boss Panda explained that when the almanac came from China, it would have indicated a fish such as a Chinese river perch, but that as this would not relate to Japan, it was one of the observations adjusted to suit the Japanese environment. Therefore it was now largely understood as ‘salmon swarm’. (鱖魚群/ さけのうをむらがる or sakenou o muragaru)
Boss Panda continued, “In some parts of Japan including Tokyo, a traditional year-end gift to present to someone used to be a salted salmon. During the first few days of a New Year, specific dishes are eaten, known as Osechi Ryori_(お節料), and each dish has a specific meaning or significance. It used to be taboo to cook on New Year’s day and so a large amount of preserved food was prepared beforehand, with salting being a common method of preserving.”
“Salmon return in autumn and winter in large numbers to the rivers where they were born in northern Japan to spawn a new generation, after spending years in the ocean. There are several species of the salmon family found in Japan, including shiro-zake (dog salmon), masunosuke (king salmon), Karafuto masu (pink salmon) and sakura masu (masu salmon)”…
Kiku was no longer listening however, being partial as he was to a meal of freshly caught salmon and he had begun to daydream about big juicy fish leaping through the air…
*Further information
Sekkis, Kos and The Fox Alamanac
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).