Shichijuni-kou (72 Seasons) Calendar Listing
初春, Shoshun: Early Spring
Season No. 2: 雨水, Usui: Rain Water
|Raindrops Cling to Narcissus (Hiroshima Prefecture)|
Mist Hangs Over the Land (February 24-28)
"It is spring!
A hill without a name
In thin haze." -Matsuo Basho
Stepping outside to face this morning's sun, I found that the the distant mountains had blended in with the horizon, glazed over with a gossamer whitish haze. It wasn't cedar pollen, pollution or smoke messing with my eyes. Nor was it yellow sand blowing in from China creating the illusion that the mountains were floating over the hills. The warm, moist air of morning had wrapped us all in a wispy gauze of spring mist the Japanese call kasumi (霞).
Kasumi can roll in thick or thin. However it comes, this bewitching spring mist can bring some serious silhouettes to an early spring landscape.
As the warmth of the sun gradually teased more moisture out of the ground and nearby river, things started to get a little steamy at my place of work. Condensation on the walls and windows usually meant cold rain was pouring down outside. But this time, the air had no winter sting!
As much as I want this heat wave to stick around, however, I realize that it's now the time of sankanshion (三寒四温), where we get three cold days for every four not-so-cold days. Sure the repetition of extremes takes a hard toll on the body. But if it means no longer having to buy boxes of kairo hand warmer packs, it's all good!
Tradition of the Season: 野焼き, Noyaki, Controlled Burning
|Noyaki Sunset, Ohmi Hachiman, Shiga Prefecture (C) Oppa, 2011, All Rights Reserved|
|House On Fire? (Tsukubamirai City, Ibaraki, 2009)|
|Burning grasses in the river bed (Takehara, Hiroshima)|
Whenever I drive by a smoking noyaki in progress, I quickly roll down the car window to grab a whiff. The warm, musty smoke from the burning of old leaves and underbrush reminds me of the salmon smokehouses that dot the riverbanks of my Alaskan homeland. In Japan, noyaki is a traditional symbol of seasonal change, cleansing both land and mind. Since noyaki is an essential element of Japanese organic farming, as my former boss once pointed out, the practice doesn't seem to be a tradition that will 'burn out' anytime soon, despite global concern for rising CO2 levels. (Sorry, Readers. I couldn't resist).
Taste of the Season: 菜の花, 菜花 Nanohana, Nabana, Rapeseed
|Nanohana Field (Kusatsu, Shiga Prefecture)|
|Spring Wave (Tsukubamirai City, Ibaraki)|
Nope. The cheapest and most plentiful oil here is canola, made from rapeseed (Brassica napus). Mustering up the courage to try something new, I decided to give canola oil a whirl in my Sapporo dorm kitchen. As I savored the crispy golden crust of a simple egg fried sunny side up, I marveled at how the oil cooked up clean without leaving any annoying corn odor on my hair or clothing! It also made my Asian food taste worlds better than the heavy slop I always turned out on my stove back in the States. My corn oil days were gone forever!
While driving down a monotonous suburban Japanese highway, the sudden flash of neon-yellow nanohana in full bloom can be so shocking in the brown dead of winter that one needs to be careful not to run off the road! Their fragrance is almost sickeningly sweet, like a cross between honeysuckle and dandelion. Despite their heavy scent, the flowers, leaves and stems of the nanohana are eaten as a vegetable in Japan, usually mixed into rice or steamed as a side green. The taste is mellow and creamy, like spinach but with a natural buttery aftertaste that smooths out any trace of bitterness.
Nanohana can easily be purchased in supermarkets and mom & pop groceries. But in my experience, most aunties plodding around their fields will be more than happy to pluck for you a few stems if you express interest in trying it out. Just a quick steam or flash-boil and sprinkle with a teeny bit of salt is all it takes for a pleasant addition to your spring repertoire!
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