Japan's 72 Microseasons - #12
"The Voice of Thunder Speaks"
March 31 - April 4
かみなり すなわち こえを はっす
Kaminari sunawachi, koe wo hassu
The voice of thunder speaks
What is the voice of a god? Of the skies and wind and clouds? If thunder could be said to be a proclamation spoken by natural forces beyond our seeing, then what would it be promising?
For Kō 12, at least, it’s a declaration of war. The final phase of the Vernal Equinox, where Spring will finally and violently conquer Winter for supremacy of the skies.
…well, maybe not so drastic as that, but it’s of little surprise that we assign such drama to thunder—a looming, booming sound from a source we can’t see. And the weather during this period in Japan is certainly as chaotic as a cosmic battle might be. It’s not uncommon for all the warm breezes and pink petals to be suddenly assailed by hail and late-season snowfall.
Meteorologically, this is caused by passing cold fronts clashing with warm pockets of cumulonimbus clouds, and mythologically by our green-skinned friend in the header there—Fūjin, the God of Wind—clashing with his brother Raijin, the god of lightning and storms.
Every fight has its end, and like many siblings, Fūjin and Raijin’s squabbles eventually give way to more stable weather—a storm before the calm, you could say. So while the hectic weather patterns of Kō 12 may not be so welcome if you’re trying to bike to school or catch your train, farmers have long seen the distant rumbles during this time of the year as a blessing for the rain they promise. For that reason, a flash of lightning on the horizon can also be called inazuma (稲妻), or: “the wife of the rice plant.”
Sometimes, a bit of conflict can lead to fresh growth.
These spring-signaling peals of thunder are called shunrai (春雷)—shun being our in-kanji pronunciation of haru, the word for spring also seen in our sekki name Shunbun, and rai being part of Raijin just above,1 a reading of the word for thunder (and also lightning—the two are connected, after all2).
It's perhaps a bit late to be covering this, but for those unfamiliar: Japanese kanji characters typically have a few different readings which mainly depends on whether or not they're standing alone or combined as part of a word. If combined, they tend to adopt a reading closer to their original Chinese (thunder, for example, is léi).
Why don’t we look at the kanji for this kō, while we’re at it?
雷 means thunder (or lightning) and is read on its own as kaminari. 乃 is a very interesting character here—grammatically, it’s the same as the modern possessive particle の, used like the English -’s and meaning “of,” or “belonging to.” Here, it’s given the reading sunawachi (乃ち), which has more of a nuance of explaining or re-defining the thing after. We might phrase it in English as “that is to say” or “namely.”
So how are we redefining thunder? As a proclamation, a call to action, a cheer or emphatic vocalization. The latter half of this kō’s name is the word hassei 発声, which is comprised of characters meaning “to issue forth, emit” (発) and “voice” (声), but has been rearranged a bit in the Japanese name for this period in order to form a sentence, as all kō do, thus becoming 声を発す (literally “emit a voice”). Taken together, we arrive at the interpretation of thunder being something that is spoken with a purpose. To what purpose, well, only the gods know.3
A last note: this kō actually has an opposite in Kō 46, but I think we’ll leave that for a few months down the road. For now, let’s wrap up with our seasonal items for this turbulent time.
● Seasonal vegetable
udo, うど, herbal aralia | nira, 韮, garlic chives
● Seasonal seafood
madai, 真鯛, red sea bream
● Seasonal flowers
mokuren, 木蓮, lily magnolia
At some point between Kō 11 & 12 here we passed 50 subscribers! I’m grateful to all of you that take some time to read these words and think about the little things that make a season. Let’s keep learning and pondering together.
See you next kō~
Keep up with the seasons
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the -jin part means “god” (神) and is also read kami
you may naturally question how to specify between the two in Japanese, to which the answers are variably: context clues, more detailed words like “lightning flash” (雷光) and “thunder clap” (raimei, 雷鳴), or just accepting that life is full of uncertainty
in Japanese: Kami nomi zojiru, 神のみぞ知る