Sunday, July 6, 2014

30. 半夏生: "The Crowdipper Comes Up"

(BGM: Lazy Afternoon by the Peyton Trio)

Pinellia ternata: 'crowdipper.' (Source: Wikipedia, a Public Domain Image).
Shichijuni-kou (72 Seasons) Calendar Listing 
 仲夏, Chuuka: "Mid-summer"
Season No. 10: 夏至, Geshi: 
"Summer Solstice" 

I find myself longing for the dry comfort we had just a few weeks ago. All it took was two nights of heavy rain to hoist our humidity level all the way up to one hundred percent. My blow-dried nekoge hair gets wet again after only a fifteen-minute walk and I wonder why, in this time of global warming, sticky, unbreathable polyester is still the norm for business wear. The nights are still cool and comfortable, but everyone around me is grunting "atsui!" (hot). 

Climate No. 30: 半夏生

"The Crowdipper Comes Up"
(July 1 -July 6) 

I didn't quite know what to think about this one. A problem many linguists come across while studying any language is that the same word can have various meanings and translations can get all mixed up, especially when they cross national borders. Here we have a vague reference to the phase in mid-summer called hange (半夏), which in Chinese can be translated to mean 'mid-summer' or more technically, the eleventh day after summer solstice.

The issue of exactly which plants associated with this season are correct, however, is where things start to become a jumbled mess. Judging by my references, most artists and authors who specialize in the Shichijuni-ko calendar seem to agree that Pinellia ternata (crowdipper, Jpn: カラスビシャク karasubishaku) is the correct one, as it translates into hange in Chinese.

But looking at the name of the season hangeshou (半夏生), we find it translates directly into Saururus chinensis (Jpn: ハンゲショウ, 'lizard tail' in English), a plant that doesn't even grow in Japan! What we do have is another type of hangeshou, a relative of lizard tail (according to Japanese taxonomy, which is often different from that of the West): Meet the dainty, edible and medicinal Houttuynia cordata (dokudami 蕺草), also known as 'fish mint' for its fishy smell when cut.

Houttuynia cordata. In English, this is called 'lizard tail,' a relative of Saururus chinensis according to Japanese scientific classification. Found in Miyoshi, Hiroshima.

All three herbs are important in Chinese and Japanese traditional medicine for treating different ailments. And since the names are similar, it would be good if all were officially recognized at the same time.

But enough confusion! Let's clear our minds with a good Basho poem:

"A lightning gleam
  into darkness travels
    a night heron's scream."  
                     -Matsuo Basho

Bird Of The Season: アオサギ, Aosagi, Gray Heron

A patient gray heron waits for ayu fish handouts on the Uji River (Kyoto).
I'm not going to write about the night heron. (It might be helpful to just focus on the "heron" reference in the Basho poem). This past week, I have been seeing (and hearing) many of these humongous blue, gray and white pterodactyls screaching like banshees as they coast along our river in the night. I swear that the first time I ever heard one of these giants scream, I thought it was the coughing shriek of a haggard old crone losing her purse to a thief (or something to that effect). I actually bolted up in alarm, believing that someone was in trouble! The calls of their chicks sound like demons from the underworld; only the voice a mother could love!

The Philosopher of Arashiyama (Kyoto).
In line with the name issues plaguing this week's blog post, the gray heron (Ardea cinerea) is called the "blue heron" in Japanese. (Don't worry. I'm not going to bother with it). Gray herons often cry out after nightfall when they relocate from one fishing hole to another. In the daytime, they're very easy to spot: meditating peacefully on rocks or rice paddy ledges, balancing on marine buoys (sometimes on one leg), and stalking their prey with dagger-like beaks, spearing them in stealthful silence. They prey mercilessly (yet selectively) upon crayfish, crabs, fish, mantis, frogs, lizards, even small snakes! For some unknown reason, I find myself cheering when they're successful at getting what they want. (I can't imagine why).

My husband calls these birds "philosophers," for they look so pensive staring for hours at the water without moving a single muscle. Their serious expressions and steely eyes demand respect. I imagine studying the blue heron's behavior would only improve my leadership skills.

But I don't think I want to sing like one anytime soon. 

Flower Of The Season: 凌霄花, Nouzenkazura, Chinese Trumpet Flower

Defiant Chinese trumpet flower spilling over a wall in Toride, Ibaraki.
Also known as incarvillea and hardy gloxinia, the Chinese trumpet flower blooms in a massive attack, snaking itself around trees, walls, whatever support it can find to dump its heavy load of blossoms. Their bright, sunny flowers in various shades of orange, yellow, even pink lend a cheerful, vibrant contrast to the thick, sticky mists of mid-summer. Though the colors of the Chinese trumpet flower are warm by nature, they somehow remind me of orange sherbet and instantly I feel cooler whenever I see them.

I always look forward to watching these flowers appear. They don't simply "bloom." Their blossoms flare up like a wildfire, grabbing immediate attention as a visual focal point no matter where they're planted. And the hotter it gets, the more intensely they bloom, as if feeding off the heat. I hope I can eventually learn to do the same. The beaches get fiery hot this time of year! Atsui!

Copyright 2014 Genkilee, Gen. All rights reserved. No part of this blog (written or photo content) may be reproduced or reprinted without the expressed permission of the author.

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