Japan’s traditional calendar is divided not just into four seasons but also into 24 solar terms (sekki), from Risshun (“Spring Begins”) to Taikan (“Great Cold”). Each solar term is further subdivided into three ko, making 72 “microseasons” in all.
In premodern times, works called saijiki (roughly, almanacs) or kiyose (“seasonal collections”) offered insight into the colors, flora, fauna, cuisine, and even appropriate haiku words for each of these 72 microseasons. What could be more luxurious than living each day conscious of our slow passage through the year, enjoying the here and now through curated contemporary imagery and a modern-day kiyose revealing the traditional seasonal sensibilities of Japan?
May 6 to 20, 2019
Rikka, “Summer Begins”
The first solar term in the traditional calendar is Risshun (“Spring Begins”), which starts at the lunar new year in early February. Risshun is followed by Usui (“Rainwater”), Keichitsu (“Insects Awaken”), Shunbun (“Spring Equinox”), Seimei (“Clear and Bright”), Kokuu (“Grain Rains”), and then the seventh solar term, Rikka (“Summer Begins”). As the name suggests, this is the start of summer.
Like the other solar terms, Rikka is divided into three microseasons (the 19th, 20th, and 21st of the calendar): Kawazu Hajimete Naku (“Frogs Croak for the First Time”), Mimizu Izuru (“Worms Emerge”), and this article’s featured microseason, Takenoko Shozu (“Bamboo Shoots Appear”). In 2019, these run from May 6 to 10, May 11 to 15, and May 16 to 20 respectively.
Summer is when the frogs begin calling to each other on the riverbanks and the worms wriggle out of the soil. Under wide blue skies, the carp streamers of Children’s Day flap in the breeze, and people gather on the beaches for clam digging. Through it all, the most pleasant breeze of the year blows: kunpu, literally “fragrant wind,” source of the set expression kaze kaoru gogatsu, “May of the fragrant winds.”
Microseason 21: Takenoko Shozu, “Bamboo Shoots Appear” (Rikka 3)
The tender tips of bamboo shoots raise the soil and show their faces as a crisp wind blows through the bamboo grove.
The vivid greenery heralds the arrival of a beautiful new season.
Spring is over, and the rays of the sun are stronger than ever.
As the bamboo grass rustles in the breeze, the scent of summer fills the air.
Solar term: Rikka
19: Kawazu Hajimete Naku (“Frogs Croak for the First Time”), May 6 to 10 (2019)
20: Mimizu Izuru (“Worms Emerge”), May 11 to 15 (2019)
21: Takenoko Shozu (“Bamboo Shoots Appear”), May 16 to 20 (2019)
Climate: Kaze kaoru (fragrant wind)
Flowers: Rhododendron (tsutsuji), Chinese peony (shakuyaku), Japanese iris (kakitsubata)
Tea flowers: Greater periwinkle (tsurunichinichiso), Rodgersia podophylla (yagurumaso), Asian virginsbower (tessen)
Colors: Green bamboo (aotake iro), green jade (hisui), willow leaf (yanagiha iro), celadon (seiji iro), spring onion shoots (moegi)
Color layering: “Japanese iris” (kakitsubata)—purple (murasaki) over pale green (moegi); “Rhododendron” (tsutsuji)—Sappan red (suo) over pale green (aokeshi)
Events: Aoi Matsuri (Shimogamo Shrine, Kyoto); Sanja Matsuri (Asakusa Shrine, Tokyo)
Food: Wakatakeni (simmered wakame and bamboo shoots), takenoko gohan (rice with bamboo shoots)
Sweets: Kashiwa mochi (rice cake with red bean paste wrapped in oak leaf), aburi mochi (grilled rice cake with roasted soybean flour and miso sauce), aokaede (green maple leaf-shaped confection)
Seafood: Japanese horse mackerel (maaji), clam (asari)
Vegetables: Bamboo shoots (takenoko), broad beans (soramame)
Zodiac sign: Leo
Seasonal phrases for haiku (kigo): “Fragrant wind” (kunpu), “Late blossoms” (yoka), “Young maple” (wakakaede), “Fine weather in the rainy season” (satsukibare)
Haiku: Takenoko ya/Zunzu to nobite/Yabu no ue (Bamboo shoots/sprouting up/through the undergrowth)—Masaoka Shiki
Video editing by Mei Tsukishiro（Park Sutherland）
Music by Yosuke Tsuchida