Japan's 72 Microseasons - #16
"Fresh Reeds First Surface"
April 20 - 24
あし はじめて しょうず
Ashi hajimete shōzu
Fresh reeds first surface
Just because something is unseen doesn’t mean it’s not there, growing and changing on its own schedule. The mirror-smooth surface of a still, placid lake can suddenly become pierced through by green shoots with the potential to become a floating forest. Still waters, as they say, run deep.
A delayed, and short, newsletter this time! Things were a little busy here celebrating a birthday and preparing for a trip. Attending to life day-by-day, thing-by-thing. In times like these I’ll endeavor to keep the Twitter account up-to-date as the microseasons change, but you may have noticed the newsletters can be a bit irregular, schedule-depending. All things in their own time, hey?
In any case, some days ago was the start of the sekki called Kokū (穀雨)—often translated as “ripening rains,” these April showers do more than bring May flowers, they also nourish Japan’s most famous of crops: Oryza sativa, the rice plant.1 The 穀 here refers to rice and other grains, and the 雨 means “rain,” which Japan will start to see more and more of as May and June bring the rainy season, Tsuyu.
But we’re not here to talk about rice (that’s next kō) or tsuyu (that’s some weeks away yet). We’re here to talk about the humble reed, called either ashi or yoshi2 in Japanese. The kanji character in this kō’s name is the most common (葭), but like anything old enough and familiar to both Japan and China, it can also be written in more fun, increasingly complicated ways: 葦 and 蘆. The ashi/yoshi readings aren’t actually related to that, though—”ashi” is a homophone for 悪し, meaning bad or evil, so somewhere along the linguistic line it became popular to flip that on its head and call it “yoshi” due to its sounding like 善し, meaning good or nice.3
Given how important to Japan’s history the common reed is, it makes perfect sense people would want to treat them nicely when talking about them. Lightweight, strong, and growing basically anywhere it has water, reeds have long been used in Japan to make window screens (yoshizu, 葦簀), flutes (yoshibue, 葦笛), paper (yoshigami, 葦紙), and as roofing material alongside bamboo and thatch. Its new growth in Kō 16 meant a refresh and repair of all those things.
There’s plenty more to say about this prolific plant, but before we get any further into the reeds, let’s have a look at the seasonal items for this kō:
● Seasonal vegetable
shin-gobō, 新牛蒡, young burdock
● Seasonal seafood
mebaru, 眼張, black rockfish
● Seasonal flower
chūrippu, チューリップ, tulip
The rains of Kokū have always been a welcome and awaited sign by farmers in Japan. After all, there can be no growth without it, which would mean no rice for bowls, no grain for livestock, and no reeds for homes.
May any rains that happen to fall on you be similarly nourishing, and may you too be strong and sturdy yet lightweight and flexible.
See you next kō~
Keep up with the seasons
Along with the rest of the go-koku (五穀), a group of five staple crops historically important to Japan that includes rice, wheat, awa (millet), kibi (a different millet), and legumes like soy beans
Not to be confused with Mario’s noble steed, whose name is Japanese is actually Yosshi (ヨッシー), the doubled S marking a pause between where you kind of lengthen how long you say it (a “geminated consonant” if you’re linguistically minded)
I promised this would be a short one, so we’ll come back to this at some later date, but there’s a whole variety of these taboo-like words (imi-kotoba 忌み言葉) in Japan, based around a semi-superstitious—but super interesting—concept called kotodama-shisō 言霊思想, belief in the power of language and its influence on perception