Japan's 72 Microseasons - #3
"Fish Emerge Through Thinning Ice"
February 14 - 18
うお こおりを いずる
Uo kōri wo izuru
"Fish emerge through thinning ice"
These early kō primarily consist of vignettes showing a world slowly awakening from the deep slumber of winter. With each passing day, more and more of the natural world begins to bloom into newly reinvigorated activity. The microseasons, in a way more vivid than a sequence of Roman months and numbered days, chart the year’s cycle of sleeping and waking, of comings and goings.
Have you ever wondered where fish sleep? Or what happens when the lakes freeze over? For freshwater fish, they apparently all kind of huddle on the bottom where warmer water—insulated by the layer ice above—has settled and, being cold-blooded, hunker down for the colder months in a state semi-hibernation. Relatable. (As for sleep, the answer is: lots of different places and ways!)
So it is that, as the fields and trees break from their winter stillness, the once-frozen surface of the water is broken by the sight of sleepy fish coming up to greet the new year. Some descriptions of this kō would have you believe these eager lake-dwellers are leaping out of the ice (飛び跳ねる, tobihaneru), but that may well be a bit of poetic license. 飛び出る (tobideru, to appear suddenly or pop out) could be more feasible.
The word izuru (いずる/いづる) used in this kō is interesting, and provides a translation challenge. Formally, it’s an older form of deru (出る), which is commonly taught to beginners as “to exit” but can also mean “to make an appearance, to come out, to escape, to set out” and lots of other synonyms implying leaving one place for another—a change of status from not-present to present, from within to without. “Emerge” feels appropriate here.
The izu- reading for the 出 kanji does persist in people’s names, though, such as one Izuku Midoriya, whose nickname “Deku” is a play on the mistaken pronunciation sounding like 木偶 (deku, a traditional word for wooden dolls/puppets that today is used to mean a blockhead, or dummy).
You may note, however, that the 出 kanji character is nowhere to be seen in 魚上氷. While 魚 (read “uo,” “sakana,” or “gyo”) is just “fish,” 上氷 isn’t really a common word in Japanese. Moreso used in ancient literature like The Pillow Book, 上氷 is given the reading uwagōri/uhagōri and refers to the spreading of ice atop the water—or, in cases like this kō, the ice itself. Uwagōri is a thin layer of ice, the kind you see in early spring that can be easily melted away by afternoon sun, or broken by some energetic fish.
So I suppose the 出 is implied, even if it doesn’t make an appearance.
This kō also marks the end of our first major sekki, Risshun! That’s 1 of 24 down. The three kō that make up a sekki are divided into shiyokō (初候), jikō ( 次候), and makkō (末候), whose meanings correspond to first, next, and last kō, respectively. This one is the makkō, meaning after this we begin the cycle again with a new sekki and a new group of kō.
Before we say goodbye to Risshun, though, I thought it’d be nice to take a quick look at it, since we were busy starting out during Kō 1 and didn’t give it the attention it deserves.
Risshun, as is fitting the start of a new year, is a time of change. The days are still cold, snow and ice are still to be found, but things are warming up. Spring is rising, just how the sun begins to peak over the horizon before daybreak. It’s a time to prune for fresh growth, to clean up and make room for the new things to come. After all, even though January 1st is New Years, it’s the same winter it was on December 31st—not really till spring comes back around does it feel like you’ve come full circle. Risshun is that first whisper of spring that sends a signal to start again.
Risshun is the day from which all the rest are counted out, 00:00 on the Koyomi’s clock. One of the primary uses of this calendar (and any calendar, historically) was for agriculture. Starting from Risshun, important planting and harvesting days like the 88th Night (from which the fields no longer frost over) and the typhoon season were calculated. And even though Japan now uses the Gregorian calendar and modern meteorology, New Years greeting cards still refer to 新春 (shinshun), the New Spring. It also shows up in Japan’s parallel to Black Friday sales: 新春初売り (shinshun hatsu-uri), the first sales of the new year.
Aside from the cars, Risshun images and info above courtesy of Koyomi Seikatsu (Twitter, Instagram), who post not only about the sekki and kō, but also other Japanese days of note, traditional colors like uguisu-iro that we mentioned before, and interesting holidays and observances from around the world. Their site, which ships overseas, carries a bunch of gorgeous calendars and stationery similarly based around nature and its influence on us.
Anyway, that’s all for this one! Happy Valentine’s Day to all who observe, and may you break the ice as needed.
See you next kō~
Keep up with the seasons