Japan's 72 Microseasons - #39
"Thick Autumn Fog Descends"
August 18 - 22
ふかき きり まとう
Fukaki kiri matō
”Thick autumn fog descends”
Like a curtain bringing an act to a close—with perhaps a long, enthusiastic encore and a final bow still to come—the autumn fogs of Kō 39 signal a wrap-up for the performance of this year’s summer season. The next act will be autumn, kiri is its opener.
Kiri (霧) is the Japanese word for fog, specifically autumnal fog. In the spring, the same phenomenon is called kasumi (霞), and like many natural markers of the changing seasons, both are referenced frequently in poetry as kigo words1. It’s a bit like how we’d say fog, haze, or mist in English despite it all being low-lying water droplets in the air. As a fun fact, the variances in temperature, pressure, and moisture levels that create fog are the same that create clouds. It’s all a matter of perspective (well, altitude).
Whether gathered lazily along the fields, or blanketing the tops of mountains, there’s an undeniable otherworldly quality to these morning mists and evening hazes. It’s a clear battling of the elements—the cooler dark hours and the warmer light hours mixing at the nexus between days as clouds come down to earth. It’s clear that something is happening out there.
As important as what is happening is where it’s happening, and as with many nature-related words, Japanese has a wide variety of terms to describe location-specific fog. Here’s just a few:
kaimu (海霧) - sea fog
kawagiri (川霧) - river fog
toshigiri (都市霧) - city fog/smog
bonchigiri (盆地霧) - fog collected in a mountain basin
asagiri (朝霧) - morning mist
yogiri (夜霧) - evening fog
The general type of fog that we’re looking at (and struggling to look through) during this kō is mōmu (蒙霧), which is pronounced in the name of the microseason as fukaki kiri.2 In either case, it means a fog that is “dense, thick, concealing.” The mō part can usually be seen in the word mōmō (濛々), which can refer to thick, obscuring clouds of dust or the fuzzy brain that comes before a morning coffee.
The 升降 is no less interesting. The Japanese way or reading the kō gives us matō for it, which would be written 纏う and means “to be clad in” or “don (as in clothing)”. From that we can take a more flowery translation for this microseason to be “the earth wears a coat of heavy autumn fog” or the like.
But 升降 does not have the same meaning. Alternatively written 昇降, it has a direct translation of “rising and falling,” (which is what the two characters mean separately) but historically has also been used to refer to the push and pull of cosmic forces, the cycle of the sun and moon, the balance between yin and yang maintained by nature.
It’s a term that actually nicely reflects what is happening at a climate level each day to create this fog. The cooler weather fronts that cycle the seasons lead to lower temperatures overnight, which burn off quickly as the sun rises, leaving water vapor lingering for those liminal moments that are neither day nor night. Temperatures lower again as night falls, and the cycle continues. Gradually, autumn replaces summer, as it will be replaced by winter, and so on. Rising (昇る) and falling (降る).
As to why the Koyomi chose such a departure for this microseason’s Japanese localization, only its original editor Shibukawa Shunkai would know.
Well, that’s been a particularly vocabulary-heavy entry, so why don’t we take a look at some nice food to wrap up?
● Seasonal vegetable
shin-shōga, 新しょうが, young ginger
● Seasonal seafood
madako, 真だこ, octopus
● Seasonal plant
mizuhiki, 水引, Asian jumpseed
I opened this entry with a stage metaphor, but as someone who’s spent most of their life playing computer and video games, what the dense white fogs of early autumn remind me of more than anything is a loading screen. A blank slate being gradually filled in with 1s and 0s as the next adventure gathers itself together. When it lifts, a new landscape will reveal itself and it’ll be time to set out.
See you next kō~
Keep up with the seasons
As a reminder: kigo (季語) are literally “seasonal words”
We’ve lightly covered it before, but most Japanese kanji characters have two different sets of pronunciations: one imported from Chinese alongside the characters themselves (called onyomi/音読み), and one from native Japanese language that pre-dated the characters but was fitted to their meanings (called kunyomi/訓読み)—in this instance, “mu” is the onyomi pronunciation and “kiri/giri” is the kunyomi pronunciation of the “fog” kanji character