Poetic Name (Mei)
Description / source poetry
Hatsugaori is the first freezing over of a pond or body of water for the winter.
Going outside in the early morning and seeing a thin layer of ice frozen over a pond invokes a deep realisation winter is here.
“Yukizora” refers to the look of the sky just before it is about to snow. Looking up to the yukizora showing signs of a silent, steady snowfall, one feels the bitter cold as one also feels the beauty of a snow-covered landscape and falling snow crystals from the sky.
For the last poem before his death, Bashõ composed the following poem:
旅に病んで / tabi ni yande
夢は枯野を / yume wa kareno-o
駆けめぐる / kakemeguru
Ailing on this trek;
My dreams roam and roam:
Through a withered moor.
Bashō – 1694
At the begging of summer, new foliage of the lotuses rises to the surface of the pond. In the height of summer, strong stems hold big, brilliant green leaves up above the waterline. With the autumn winds, the green starts to fade and the leaves become tattered. As the autumn deepens and entering winter the leaves wither and stems fold and break making a desperate sight.
凍(ite) = ice 蝶(cho) = butterfly
Picture a winter butterfly, perched stiff on a tree branch like an icicle too cold to fly. This is 'itechō'.
Shikimatsuba refers to the pine needles that are laid on the roji garden or Japanese gardens during the winter to protect the moss and other plants from the frost and snow. The needles are always aged amber/brown pine needles, used for their beauty.
Heading home on a winter’s night, one’s path is sometimes lit by the cold but brilliant silver light of the moon. Such a scene is piercingly cold, but holds a unique beauty.
Here is a haiku written by Taigi (1738-1791):
“Winter moon, crossing this bridge alone, the sound of geta”.
Here “kangetsu” is represented by “winter moon”. A single person crosses the bridge as brilliant light from the winter moon fills the scene. This moon lights up the frost covering the planks. And the sound of this single person’s geta rapping over the planks resounds through the cold winter night.
Image by: Lachlan Donald from Melbourne, Australia via Wikimedia Commons
Thousand Silver Trees
The treasure of a mountain hut, a thousand silver trees. The jewel of a rustic fisherman, a single straw coat.
Sanka no fūki wa, gin senju
Gyofu no fūryū wa, gyoku issa
Reference: Zengo Nyūmon 禅語入門 An Introduction to Zen Words and Phrases, translated by Michael D. Ruymar.
Snow at Midnight
Yowa no Yuki
Local Shrine Kagura
Satokagura refers to the tradition of performing Kagura at local shrines across Japan in November of the lunar calendar. It is distinguished from the Kagura
performed at the Japanese Court in December called ‘Mikagura’. ‘Kamiasobi’ was the word used to refer to Kagura in olden times.
Local kagura lights up mid-winter Japan. As nature is at its darkest of the year, kagura performances enrich the hearts of whole communities, reminding them there is a vast world of mystery still working, though the world seems dormant in the cold.
Image: A.Davey from Portland, Oregon, EE UU (Kagura Dance) via Wikimedia Commons
December is also called ‘臘月’ (rōgetsu). 八 hachi = eight. Therefore 臘八 ‘rōhachi’ is December the 8th, the day it is said the Buddha attained enlightenment during a harsh, long period of meditation. To commemorate this, in Zen temples in Japan from the first until the morning of the eighth of December, an intense period of zazen is conducted without sleep nor rest. This period of zazen is called ‘Rōhachi Sesshin’.
An ‘uzumibi’ is the smouldering fire buried in the hearth to make sure the main fire of the hearth burns strong. In a chaji conducted at New Year’s, on New Year’s Eve an uzumibi is buried in the hearth, and kept smouldering overnight. Then on New Years day the water for the first bowl of tea for the year is boiled from a fire started from the smouldering remains of last year’s fire.
‘Uzumibi’ appears in a poem on the case for a chashaku made by Kobori Osetsu (3rd son of Kobori Enshu and founder of the Yamato Enshu Tradition). The poem reads:
In the year’s twilight
Through night appears the first light,
Laced with moon shadow
In the hearth faint remains
Smouldering fires of years past
Hyōka refers to when water droplets on plants freeze overnight and appear as white flowers.
Bare Winter Woods
Fuyukodachi refers to the scene of bare trees standing like skeletons in a grove. There is a haiku by Buson including this mei:
A strike of my ax,
Such vibrant scent fills the air!,
Dead winter woods.
Not written but implied in the words is the contrast between a seemingly dead winter tree and the living scent that bursts out of the tree when wounded by an ax. There is a feeling of awe in this haiku. Awe for nature that keeps pulsing right under our noses.
White ice crystals rising up from the ground or loosely attached to exposed objects, such as vines or leaves. This frost forms on cold, clear nights when heat radiates up from the ground (or out from trees), to the open air. The freezing air crystallises the warmth into an Alexander McQueen-looking carpet.