Poetic Name (Mei)
Description / source poetry
The first water drawn for the New Year. 'Waka’ means ‘ego-less, awakened to one’s divine heart’. ‘Mizu’ means ‘water’. The time for drawing the first water of the day for chanoyu is at or just prior to daybreak, when the water is charged with the vitality of yin (night) shifting to yang (day).
For the English translation of this poetic name, 'innocent water' seems appropriate to capture the meaning of the Chinese characters. 'Vestal mater' is a more
creative translation inspired by the shift from yin to yang at the time of drawing water. Vesta is the Roman goddess of hearth (fire) and therefore yang. The water (yin) is sourced for chanoyu
(to boil over the hearth). 'Vestal' also implies 'virginal' from the Vestal Virgins who kept a sacred fire to Vesta burning at her temple.
The time when the qi of the land changes to the new day is the time of the tiger, between 3am and 5am. The time of the tiger is yang. Daybreak falls in the time of the rabbit, between 5am and 7am. In the "Tea Records" (Kai會), chapter of the Nampō Roku, Rikyū seems to have fetched waka-mizu water in tsurube mizusashi for his New Year’s chanoyu. He decorates the hinoki water pail with a shime-nawa and places it in the chashitsu before commencing chanoyu at daybreak.
First spring green amid melting snow /
Sprigs of green amid snow
Yukima no Kusa
To those who await only the cherry blossoms,
Show them the spring in grassy patches amid the snow of a mountain village.
Hana o nomi matsuran hito ni yamazato no yukima no kusa no haru o misebaya.
A term that describes the annual snow and ice melt of North America. Native American Indians and Aboriginal Canadian groups celebrate the Spring Thaw with a pow wow.
Image: James Westwater jameswestwater.com
A wayfaring crow
Returns to its old nesting tree
Covered in plum blossoms
旅烏 / tabigarasu
古巣は梅に / furusu wa ume ni
なりにけり / narinikeri
Bashō (Spring 1685)
First Green Flare
Nightingales’ Inn (among plum blossoms)
The poetic name Ōshukubai (nightingales’ inn nestled among plum blossoms) comes from the ‘Ōkagami’ (大鏡) collection of historical tales from the Heian Period 794 to 1185. One of the tales tells the story of when Emperor Marakami (926–967) requested a new plum tree be found to admire, as the blossoms of the plum tree on the grounds of Seiryō-den (the Emperor’s quarters inside the Imperial Palace) had finished for the year. Servants of the court went out searching for a beautiful plum tree befitting the Emperor’s garden. They found such a specimen in the garden of a local dwelling. When the imperial servants were about to move the tree, the owner of the house requested that she be allowed to tie a letter to a branch of the plum. Her wish was granted and the tree was delivered to the palace complete with the letter fixed to one of the branches. The plum tree was planted in its new home and the Emperor was admiring the tree when he noticed the letter tied to the branch. He undid the letter to find a tanka poem composed in elegant handwriting. It read:
choku nareba itomo kashikoshi
uguisu no yado wa to towaba
Should my Emperor
Wish for my humble plum tree,
Honoured, may I muse:
How to tell the nightingales
Where their home has gone this spring?
It turned out that the poem was composed by the daughter of esteemed poet Ki no Tsurayuki. The plum tree was adored by Tsurayuki in the years before it found its new home.
As new growth sprouts in the fields, the colours of withered grass changes to fresh, young green. In the warm sunshine, the tiny wildflowers of the field grasses also start to blossom.
From afar, the first glimpses of a cluster of cherry blossom trees in full bloom seems as if a white mist is hanging in the distance.
By the roadside, footpaths and in gardens, precious, petit leaves are starting to sprout from the trees and shrubs. Bulbous species, too, are sprouting up form the earth. This mei refers to these treasures of nature. A mei filled with a sense of hope.
'Utepils' means 'the first beer of the year taken outdoors' in Norwegian. After the long, dark, cold months of a Norwegian winter, the days start to lengthen and a hint of Spring creeps into the air. When you feel a sign of Spring, you invite friends to enjoy the first alfresco pint of the season - utepils (ute = outdoor, pils = beer)
Long Spring Day
As the Winter warms to Spring, one notices the days lengthening. The mornings are a little less dark, and the return home at night is acoompanied by stronger light and a tinge of celebration. 'Eijitsu'永is also used with the connotation of meeting a friend or dear one for a relaxed time in the warming lengthening days.
With soft light shining gently upon them from the infinite source of spring,
Why should, with unquiet hearts, blossoms hasten to scatter?
- Ki no Tomonori (?850-?904), Kokin-shū #84
Haru no yo
How strange the vibrant darkness of the springtime night -
The plum blossoms’ hues go unseen, but how can their scent be concealed from light?
- Ōshikōchi no Mitsune (?859-?925),
I will never forget the first night our Shachū spent in Nara. It was the night of the day parting Wafūdō after a week of intensive training. Tired, emancipated bodies. At dusk, we taxied hurriedly to Kasuga Taisha. Darkness fell as we entered the grounds and we felt our way through the ancient paths. The air was alive.
The next day we revisited the Shrine to see the most magnificent wisteria blossoms of our lives. They were hanging over our heads in the darkness, electrifying the unseen air.