Japan's 72 Microseasons - #5
"Spring's First Haze Lingers"
February 24 - 28
かすみ はじめて たなびく
Kasumi hajimete tanabiku
"Spring's first haze lingers"
As frozen ice turns back into liquid water, the still, waiting winter is revived into fluid motion. The earth responds, and this manifests in all sorts of observable ways. For those who play close enough attention (either by need or artistic interest), even how moisture gathers in the air can mark the changing seasons.
A bit of a short one today since I’m out of town, but we have a couple really interesting things to look at here in terms of kanji characters. First off, let’s see what Japan considers to be “spring haze” so we can get a good image in our heads:
Whereas winter is crisp and dry, spring is soft and moist. In the air, water droplets attach themselves to dust particles in much the same way they would to become crystalline snowflakes, but with warmer temperatures they instead form a diffuse, hazy blanket over the land.
In Japanese, this is called kasumi, and while the word itself just means “mist” or “haze” it is most strongly connected to spring mornings. For comparison, in autumn months the phenomenon is called kiri (霧), and evening mist is oboro (朧)—from a strictly meteorological standpoint these are all the same thing. But what are humans if not a species of Namers and Describers.
Kasumi, also called harugasumi (spring-haze), tends to gather around the base of mountains, and it is likely its delicate gathering, trailing nature that led people to imagine it as the hem of an intricate kimono worn by the goddess of spring: Sao-hime.
This is probably also a good time to mention that, due to the ubiquity in some of these longstanding cultural terms that are kigo, it can make Googling for information and pictures a little difficult. For example, top results for “oboro” get you this lad from the Shōnen Jump manga series My Hero Academia or the style of mincing meat or fish (both of which are referencing the natural occurrence of nighttime mist):
The kanji for both kasumi and kiri share a common “radical” (the individual parts that combine to make a single character) in 雨, at the top, which means “rain” and represents general sky-water. As does 靄 (moya), which is yet another word for mist, but as far as the dictionary goes represents the finest, lightest type of moisture in the air. Not as dense as a fog (kiri) or a haze (kasumi). Beginning learners are also likely to see the radical appear in 雲 (kumo), the word for clouds (which, what are clouds if not mist that’s very high up and better organized).
What’s important, regardless of what word you use for it, is that incoming warm air is keeping all the melting, evaporating moisture close the ground, hugging the fields and clinging to the mountains. Of an early morning, half-asleep, one could think that the snow is slowly packing up, leaving the ground, and heading out into the world.
So we have, very specifically “kasumi” and what it is doing for the first time (始, hajimete) this year is hovering, ligering, tanabiku-ing. Tanabiku belongs to a category of Japanese words that are usually written phonetically because their kanji characters are overly complicated for everyday use (the most popularly cited being bara, 薔薇, for rose). But because the Koyomi and its microseasons are, by their nature, traditional and complicated and kanji-only, we get to enjoy this guy:
Coming in at a wrist-straining 24 strokes (the average is 10 or less), it’s little wonder people skip memorizing the above and opt for たなびく instead. And while it’s not often used anymore, it does appear in the compound word aitai (靉靆) which refers to heavy, trailing clouds or a gloomy mood that settles upon you, much like a haze lingering in the mountains.
With any luck, it won’t be much longer until things clear up.
See you next kō~
Keep up with the seasons
Was this a short one, in the end? Who’s to say