Among the cherry blossoms, fresh leaves start to stand out on the Kawazu cherry blossoms. Even such Kawazu cherry blossoms, when the night curtain falls and they are illuminated by lights, the leaves are hidden, and only the flowers stand out. At first glance, it’s a night cherry blossom scene that seems unchanged, but it is finally the last night cherry blossoms. Around the time when news of the first spring breeze has yet to arrive, the early-blooming Kawazu cherry blossoms begin to scatter. Blooming proudly in the midst of winter and announcing the arrival of the New Year, the Kawazu cherry blossoms fall, evoking a hint of loneliness and a complex mix of feelings, hoping for another reunion. As the Kawazu cherry blossoms turn into leafy cherry trees, it marks the true beginning of the cherry blossom season. The leading role, Somei Yoshino, begins to bloom. The progress of the cherry blossom front is reported daily, and Japan is intoxicated by cherry blossoms from the heart of the city to the corners of the countryside. Cherry blossoms bloom everywhere, and on the blue tarps spread beneath them, feasts unfold. This year, many tourists from overseas will likely visit Japan to see the cherry blossoms, so the cherry blossom viewing of 2024 will likely be a diverse “hanami” gathering with people of various races.
Today is February 23rd. It is a national holiday, the “Emperor’s Birthday.” By the way, a “national holiday” is a day designated by the country’s law as a day off, while a “festival day” is a day on which religious ceremonies are performed but not necessarily a holiday. Also, it is not correct to refer to the current emperor as “Reiwa Emperor.” The same applies to the former emperor, “Heisei Emperor.” The term used for emperors, like “Showa Emperor,” is called “okurina” and is a posthumous title given to honor the virtues of a person after their death, and it cannot be used until their passing. Referring to the emperor by two generations ago as the “Showa Emperor” is the correct expression. Additionally, today, February 23rd, with its numerical wordplay on “223,” is also known as “Fuji-san (Mount Fuji) Day.” This year, with the easing of the pandemic, many tourists from around the world are visiting Japan. Among the places tourists wish to visit, “Mount Fuji” is always a popular choice. Mount Fuji is not only well-known globally but is also designated as a World Heritage Site. Its perfectly balanced appearance is the secret to its popularity. It’s not an exaggeration to say it is the most beautiful mountain in the world. However, opinions on what constitutes balance or beauty vary from person to person. Some may argue that the sharp pyramid shape of the Matterhorn (Switzerland), an aspirational mountain for climAdditionally, today, February 23rd, with its numerical wordplay on “223,” is also known as “Fuji-san (Mount Fuji) Day.” This year, with the easing of the pandemic, many tourists from around the world are visiting Japan. Among the places tourists wish to visit, “Mount Fuji” is always a popular bers, is the most beautiful. Others might prefer Mount Teide (Spain), an extinct volcano in the Canary Islands that offers magnificent views from its summit. If you’re Chinese, Mount Tai might be your choice, or you might choose the unexplored peak of Meili Snow Mountain (Bailey Setsuzan, Minling Kangri) in the remote Tibetan region. Still, Mount Fuji remains the best in the world. Its majestic and solid presence never fails to impress, standing as the only mountain among the world’s renowned peaks designated as a “World Heritage Site.” It has been revered in the hearts of the Japanese people as a spiritual anchor since ancient times, and no other mountain has been talked about, sung about, and depicted as much as Mount Fuji.
In recent times when the seasons seem to be changing faster, even the early-blooming Kawazu cherry blossoms have started to show their young leaves. Now well-known nationwide, Kawazu cherry blossoms can be seen in various places across the country. They begin to bloom as early as mid-January in some locations and reach their peak around mid-February. Unlike Somei Yoshino, which starts to grow leaves after the flowers fall, Kawazu cherry blossoms begin to sprout leaves from the full bloom stage. When we talk about the cherry blossom front, it usually refers to the flowering front of Somei Yoshino. According to this year’s forecast, the first flowering is expected to be on March 18th in Tokyo, followed by Fukuoka on the 19th, Nagasaki and Yokohama on the 20th. With the increasing fame of Kawazu cherry blossoms and their widespread planting throughout the country, there might be a distinction between the first cherry blossom front represented by Kawazu cherry blossoms and the second cherry blossom front represented by Somei Yoshino.
At the fish market, the standout presence is Kinmedai (the golden sea bream). Its vivid red hue is so striking that one wonders where such a vibrant color comes from. In reality, this color develops over time after being caught. While swimming alive in the sea, it exhibits a cherry blossom-like pink, resembling the true sea bream. Immediately after being caught, only the back turns red, with the overall body appearing silver. Kinmedai are widely distributed worldwide, but major production areas in Japan include Shizuoka, Kanagawa, Chiba, Tokyo, and Kochi. The highest catch volume is at Shimoda Port in Shizuoka, where individually caught specimens are branded as ‘Jikinme’ or ‘Toro Kinme,’ establishing them as premium Kinmedai. Being a deep-sea fish, Kinmedai have a rich flavor throughout the year, but their fat content peaks from December to February, enhancing their sweetness. Additionally, from June to August in the summer, the flesh tightens, offering a refreshing taste, making these months along with winter considered the prime season for Kinmedai. Nevertheless, savoring it locally is unparalleled. Especially, thinly sliced and enjoyed with soy sauce and wasabi, Kinmedai is a culinary delight.
Today, the day after ‘Usui’ (Rainwater), the temperature exceeded 25°C in Isesaki City, Gunma Prefecture, reaching 25.4°C, and in Kamisatomimachi, Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture, it reached 25.1°C. This marks the first time this year that the temperature has exceeded 25°C in the Kanto region, making it the first summer day in Honshu as well. In a nearby park, bougainvillea is in full bloom. Speaking of ‘Usui,’ it is a period considered a prelude to the arrival of spring, as we pass the beginning of spring, and it is the time when snow turns to rain, melted snow and ice transform into water. It is also a suitable time for decorating hina dolls in preparation for the Doll Festival on March 3. There is a verse in a Hina Matsuri song that goes, ‘Let’s offer flowers, peach blossoms,’ but since peach blossoms bloom around the time cherry blossoms fall, plum blossoms are often used to decorate hina dolls. However, with the plum blossoms also finishing blooming due to this heat, cherry blossoms must be used instead. Many foreign tourists appearing on television are dressed in summer attire with short sleeves and shorts. The ‘Vernal Equinox,’ which marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring, is still a month away, making it completely confusing to understand the seasonal sequence.
Yesterday, the 18th, was bustling with news of mountain burning. The controlled burns took place in Akiyoshidai National Park, known for its representative karst plateau in Mine City, Yamaguchi Prefecture, and at the nationally designated natural monument, “Oomuroyama,” in Ito City, Shizuoka Prefecture. In the past, the practice of burning grass for livestock feed and thatching materials for roofs was widespread across the country. However, such activities have significantly decreased over time. Nevertheless, the tradition of grassland burning is still preserved in various regions throughout the country. Recently, these controlled burns are conducted not with the primary purpose of livelihood but rather to maintain landscapes and ensure biodiversity. The spectacle of vast grasslands and mountains engulfed in flames serves as a poetic harbinger of spring, attracting numerous tourists. New buds and insects emerge from the earth that has been warmed by mountain burning, but when it’s as warm as it has been these days, there may be no need to wait for mountain burning.
The ‘Mebaru,’ characterized by its round, large eyes, is a coastal fish caught in a wide range of sea areas from Hokkaido to Kyushu in Japan. Due to its distinctive appearance, it is written in kanji as ‘眼張’ or ‘目張,’ and depending on the variety, it is also referred to as ‘目春’ or ‘Harutsugeuo,’ meaning ‘spring-telling fish,’ due to being frequently caught in early spring. The Mebaru belongs to the Mebaru family, with a wide variety of species—over 120 worldwide, and more than 35 in Japan alone. Although traditionally all referred to as ‘Mebaru’ in Japan, they are now categorized as ‘Akamebaru’ (red-eyed rockfish), ‘Kuromebaru’ (black-eyed rockfish), and ‘Shiromebaru’ (white-eyed rockfish) based on their body color characteristics. Being a translucent white-fleshed fish with a mild taste, Mebaru is delicious even when consumed raw. However, a recommended Mebaru dish is simmering. Despite its firm texture when raw, simmering causes the flesh to loosen, with a slightly sweet seasoning that, when paired with white rice, evokes a sense of spring. Mebaru is relatively easy to catch, leading some to perceive it as a common fish similar to horse mackerel or sardines; however, it is, in fact, a high-value premium fish in the market due to its scarcity compared to fish like horse mackerel or sardines, which can be caught in large quantities at once.
Whether it’s a bush warbler (Uguisu) or a white-eye (Mejiro) on the plum tree has been a subject of debate since ancient times. In reality, it is the white-eye that perches on the plum tree, but it is a fact that many people believe it to be the bush warbler. When we talk about Uguisu mochi (a type of rice cake) or Uguisu-iro (bush warbler color), it evokes the image of the white-eye perched on the plum tree. The bush warbler is brown and does not have the typical Uguisu-iro (yellow-green color). Japanese people have always loved the combination of plums and bush warblers. The earliest collection of Chinese poetry in Japan, Kaifuso (around 751 AD in the Nara period), features plums and bush warblers for the first time. The Man-yoshu (Nara period, around 783 AD) contains as many as 13 poems depicting plums and bush warblers. However, people from this era, and likely even up to the Edo period, were well aware that it was the white-eye, not the bush warbler, that perched on plum trees. In the Edo period, it became popular even among the common people in towns to keep bush warblers and white-eyes as pets, and this was because people had much more exposure to such birds compared to modern times. They were familiar with the ecology of bush warblers and white-eyes. Bush warblers are cautious and do not appear in places where there are unfamiliar people, and their diet consists of insects. White-eyes are attracted to sweet things and visit sasanqua flowers in winter and camellia and plum blossoms in spring. Due to the limited exposure to nature and the lack of knowledge about the ecology of bush warblers and white-eyes, the confusion arose from the modern misconception of the phrase ‘plum tree with a bush warbler,’ a seasonal expression, without understanding the true nature of these birds.
When it comes to the iconic symbol of the world-renowned brand Chanel, it is the ‘CC mark’ or ‘Coco Mark,’ representing the initials of Coco Chanel. Another motif equally popular as the CC mark in Chanel’s designs is the camellia. The scientific name for camellia is ‘Camellia japonica,’ referring to the Japanese-origin flower known as ‘tsubaki.’ During the Edo period, camellias gained popularity among missionaries, and the botanist Georg Kamel, who was also in the Philippines at the time, brought them to Europe for the first time. The camellia became known as ‘camellia’ in Europe, named after Kamel. It quickly gained popularity across Europe, even inspiring an opera called ‘La Dame aux Camélias’ (The Lady of the Camellias). The founder of Chanel, Coco Chanel, was deeply moved when she saw this opera at the age of 13. Influenced by the opera, she developed a love for camellias. Arthur Capel, Coco Chanel’s lover and a key figure in the early days of Chanel, is said to have gifted her a pure white camellia. Coco later expressed, ‘The Lady of the Camellias was my life,’ indicating the profound impact it had on her. The apartment where Coco Chanel lived still bears numerous camellia decorations, reflecting her enduring affection for this flower.
Today, on the 15th, it seems that the first spring gust blew in the Kanto and Hokuriku regions. Last year, the first spring gust in the Kanto region occurred on March 1, making it 14 days earlier than last year. The term ‘first spring gust’ refers to the warm and strong south wind that blows for the first time over a wide area between around February 4, the beginning of spring, and around March 20, the vernal equinox, according to the definition of the Japan Meteorological Agency. The name originated from an incident on February 13, 1859, when a fishing boat in Gonoura Town, Iki District, Nagasaki Prefecture, capsized due to a strong wind from the south, resulting in 53 deaths. Since then, the strong south wind known among fishermen as ‘Haruichi’ came to be called ‘Haruichiban’ (first spring gust). It is said that this wind was traditionally associated with the Hina dolls festival, and although this year’s ‘Usui’ (rainwater) is on the 19th, usually, the first spring gust often blows around this time. Whether in the mountains or by the sea, the signs of spring seem unusually early this year. I sincerely hope that everyone in Noto can recover as soon as possible, and pray from the bottom of my heart that there will be no further disasters this year.