Japan's 72 Microseasons - #35
"Soil Moistens, Humidity Fills The Air"
July 28 - August 1
つち うるおうて むしあつし
Tsuchi uruōte, mushi-atsushi
”Soil moistens, humidity fills the air”
If you have never experienced 100% humidity, it can be hard to describe just how…wet it is. How it feels to push your way through air heavy with invisible water, as if swimming upright in an invisible, heated pool. Even the nights are full of retained heat. It’s a presence that makes itself known by a lingering touch on the skin.
Should you find yourself in Tokyo around late summer, you’ll quickly realize that, for all its popular image of skyscrapers, neon, and robots, Japan is very much a Pacific island (albeit one that is very long and thus carries a range of climates). From Tokyo southward, temperatures in the high 30s C (90-100 F) are not at all uncommon from June to September.1
And yet there’s something oddly comforting in the oppressive humidity. As you look around, you know that this at least is an experience you’re sharing with everyone out with you at this moment. What’s more, sweating heavily in the streets of Tokyo has been experienced by millions of people over centuries of history. From emperors to samurai to shopkeeps and everyone in between, the prevailing weather is felt equally when we’re out in it together. It’s a rare moment of connectivity with strangers, to be outside feeling the same thing at the same time.
I quite enjoy the directness of this kō. Many of them are vividly descriptive, some poetically so, but #35 is refreshingly straightforward: it’s hot and muggy outside right now. No need to plant anything, harvest anything, watch for any kind of sign—save your energy for cooler times.
The kanji characters here also spell out what’s happening on a natural level: 土 (tsuchi) means “soil, earth” and is followed by 潤 (uruo) in a verb form that means “to become moist, which leads to…”2. And what it leads to is 溽暑 (jokusho)3, which refers to weather that’s humid, muggy, sticky, steamy. Steam is probably the best way to understand the cause-and-effect here: the weeks of rainy season have loaded the ground with water, and when the strong midsummer rays beam down, that moisture releases as wet, hot steam4. So it’s a bit like being a dumpling in a bamboo basket.5
Since I’ve gone and made us hungry with dumpling-talk, let’s have a look at the seasonal items for Kō 35:
● Seasonal vegetable
edamame, 枝豆, green soybeans
● Seasonal seafood
anago, 穴子, conger eel
● Seasonal fruit
hassaku, ハッサク, Hassaku orange6
Should you find yourself in a similar predicament to whichever past scholar penned the name of this kō—presumably while wiping sweat from their brow with a rolled-up, ink-stained sleeve— just be sure to keep your fluids up and take plenty of breaks to cool down. But if you can get the energy up, take a walk and feel the weight on your skin.
See you next kō~
Keep up with the seasons
Days that exceed 25 C/77 F are referred to as natsubi (夏日, “a summer day”) and those over 30 C/86 F are manatsubi (真夏日, “a true summer day”)—any hotter than 35 C/95 F is a mōshobi (猛暑日, “fiercely hot day”), a term only brought into usage from 2007…
Humidity doesn’t let up when the sun goes down, and nights that don’t fall below 25 C are called nettaiya (熱帯夜, “tropical night”)
The kanji character on its own is a concept (“noun” isn’t always an accurate term) that means moist/damp, and becomes the verb “to be moist/damp” by adding the suffix -u (う), which then conjugates to a conjunctive form by further adding -te to that, giving us the uruoute (潤うて) from this kō’s reading
The first character of this word, 溽, is only used in conjunction with other summer/heat words, and specifically means “humid”
It used to be more prominently known, however—溽暑 was one name for the 7th month of Japan’s old lunar calendar
Appropriately, the common word for “humid weather” is 蒸し暑い, where 蒸し means “steaming”
Or a sauna, I suppose is a better comparison
This fruit is traditionally eaten on the day it is named for: “hassaku” (八朔) means “the eighth new moon,” now observed on August 1st