As you enjoy chilled soba on the riverside terrace of Kifune, the back parlor of Kyoto, the season has come when the cicadas , known as ‘Tsukutsuku-boshi’ chirp vigorously. This year, nationwide records of scorching and midsummer days have been rewritten due to the intense heat. In Kyoto, the 29th marked the 38th scorching day of the year. Until now, the most scorching days recorded in Kyoto within a year were 36 days in 1942, a record that has now been surpassed for the first time in 81 years. The streak of consecutive scorching days was interrupted on the 30th, as it turned into just a midsummer day, but the 31st today seems likely to be another scorching day. Usually, the cicadas, known as ‘Tsukutsuku-boshi,’ begin their cries around the time of the Obon festival, but this year they started chirping even earlier. As the extremely hot days continue, the tsuk tsukuboshi also mistakenly believe that autumn has not yet arrived, and it seems like it will be late to start singing, but this is contradictory. Since the weather conditions have changed so much, Tsukutsukuboushi may have gone crazy. However, this is no time for such carefree talk. The Earth is teetering on a crisis from which there is no turning back. The ignorance and nonchalance of the world’s leaders are concerning.
When you light an incense firework, initially a small ball of fire resembling a bud forms, then vigorously bursting sparks fly out, much like peony flowers blooming one after another. Gradually, it builds up to a climax, exploding in shapes reminiscent of pine needles, and soon the momentum of the sparks wanes, with long and slender ones cascading like willow branches. In the end, it releases sparks akin to chrysanthemums, which, while beautifully blossoming, drop their petals one by one, eventually releasing a final fiery droplet. This incense firework was created during the Edo period and has been passed down to the present day. However, the origin, Kansai-style incense fireworks, have gunpowder attached to straw tips, whereas the Kanto fireworks that inherited it have gunpowder attached to the tip of the paper string. Incense fireworks, scattering sparks as if tracing a person’s lifetime, still enjoy enduring popularity. Nevertheless, there are only two firework companies in Japan that produce incense fireworks, and more than 99% of these, including incense fireworks, are imported from China.
As I walked through the alleys of the town, a sweet fragrance wafted through the blowing breeze. Following the scent, I discovered a large Nioi-Ban-Matsuri planted in the vacant lot at the corner. Its flowers, a mixture of purple and white, along with intermediate shades, created an elegantly subtle blend of colors. While these flowers typically bloom from April to early August in a warm climate, this location, shielded from direct sunlight and caressed by cool winds, seems to maintain its vigor even now. The characters “匂蕃茉莉 (Nioi-Ban-Matsuri)” break down to “匂” meaning fragrance, “蕃” signifying from a foreign land, and “茉莉” representing jasmine, collectively suggesting “fragrant jasmine from a foreign land.” The flowers start as a deep purple when they first bloom, then transition to a lighter purple, and within two days, they finally turn white. Their distinctive feature lies in their potent and enchanting aroma.
Jugoya, or the 15th night of the eighth lunar month, falls on September 29th this year. Known as the ‘Harvest Moon Festival’ or ‘Mid-Autumn Festival,’ Jugoya is a day for appreciating the full moon during the autumn season. People adorn their surroundings with Aki-no-nanakusa (Seven Herbs of Autumn), enjoy moon-viewing, and display items like mooncakes, sweet potatoes, fruits, and vegetables harvested during the fall. Alongside the 13th night, observed two days earlier, the moon on the 15th night is considered the most beautiful of the entire year, illuminating the clear autumn night sky. The first mention of the seven autumnal plants can be found in a poem by Yamabe no Akahito in the Manyoshu anthology. Among these plants, the Ominaeshi (Patrinia scabiosifolia) is one, deeply ingrained in Japanese culture as it appears not only in “The Tale of Genji” but also in other classical literature. Ominaeshi is a perennial herb widely distributed from Japan to East Asia, boasting the longest flowering period among the seven autumnal plants, blossoming from early summer to fall. Its dried and boiled form, known as ‘Haisho,’ has been utilized in traditional medicine and herbal remedies. By the way, the “Haru-no-nanakusa (Seven herbs of spring)” are enjoyed by “food”, such as eating “Seven herbs porridge”, but the “Aki-no-nanakusa” seem to be enjoyed by “seeing” the flowers.
Until recently, I had been thinking that summer vacation would last until August 31st. However, it seems things have changed. Just looking at the Kansai region, Shiga and Hyogo prefectures go until the 31st, while Osaka, Kyoto, and Wakayama prefectures end on the 24th. The reason I’m mentioning this is because I heard that my granddaughter in Tokyo, who is at her mother’s hometown in Hokkaido, is almost starting school. When I asked if she had finished her homework since school is about to start, I was surprised to learn that school had already begun. Furthermore, she said she had finished her homework on July 21st and 22nd, right after summer vacation started, which surprised me again. As for me, I used to struggle with my homework around this time of summer vacation because I played too much. I found out that recently there’s a trend of shortening the summer vacation. They say it’s because the curriculum has expanded and weekends have become days off, which caused a shortage of school days. You know how people have always said, ‘Play a lot and learn a lot.’ While studying at school is important, there’s also a lot to learn from play. In the long run, I sometimes feel that prioritizing play over school studies might be a good thing.
The flowers of the grove begonias have bloomed. They look just like a flower lei worn around the neck of a hula dancer. Begonias come in three main types: grove begonias, rhizomatous begonias, and tuberous begonias. Grove begonias have upright stems that stretch out, showcasing a variety of beautiful flowers and leaves. Rhizomatous begonias have thick stems that crawl along the ground as they grow, and they are enjoyed more for their beautiful leaves than their flowers. Tuberous begonias, being among the showiest types within the begonia family, produce large flowers. With excellent longevity as cut flowers and the ability to bloom year-round, begonias are found in flower beds everywhere and are a familiar sight to all. Grove begonias are particularly popular as indoor ornamental plants, with prices ranging from several times to tens of times that of other begonia varieties.
In the small open space by the waterway flowing alongside the rice paddies, Hanatoranoo (Tiger Lily) is blooming. I remember seeing it bloom around early summer last year. Hanatoranoo is a common flower seen all over the country from summer to autumn. The sight of the gentle pink flowers blooming in clusters brings a momentary sense of coolness even in the lingering summer heat. Although it’s a familiar flower, upon closer inspection, each individual flower has a unique shape. The flower spikes are slender, elongated pyramids, and the flowers bloom in a regular pattern in all directions. Due to its flower’s shape, it is also called Kakutoranoo. Originally native to the eastern parts of North America, it was introduced to Japan during the Taisho period and rapidly spread due to its resilience and vigorous growth. Despite the continued heat, you can indeed feel a faint touch of autumn in the mornings and evenings. It’s probably the Hanatoranoo that had been blooming throughout the summer, but its dignified appearance, standing firm against the heat, truly strikes a chord in the heart.
There seems to be no sign of the heat diminishing even after the Obon period has passed. Yesterday’s high school baseball championship game between Keio and Sendai Ikuei had the whole of Japan excited and even more heated. The day before yesterday, I participated in the battle for those tickets and managed to barely secure infield seats, for which my grandchildren were grateful as well. Experiencing high school baseball so intimately like this is also a first for me. After seeing off my grandchildren, I watched the game on TV, and I was surprised to see the vast Koshien Stadium packed to capacity. However, what surprised me the most was that Keio won the championship by a wide margin of 8 to 2, going against most predictions. Regardless of the outcome of the competition, the admirable performance of the players from both schools, the fervent cheering battle between the two schools, and the vibrant colors of the summer vegetables harvested from the fields all were deeply engraved in my heart as the most cherished memory of this summer.
Shiga (志賀), known for the waka poem by Tadanori Taira: ‘The capital of Shiga, with its ripples, how the wild cherry trees still flourish there.’ Shiga (志賀) was a place name referring to the cu rrent area of Otsu City. It’s a name that also contributed to the origin of Shiga (滋賀) Prefecture’s name. The name ‘Shiga (志賀)’ remains in the region adjacent to Takashima City in the northern part of Otsu City. This narrow area is nestled between the Hira Mountain Range and Lake Biwa, and during winter, it often gets a considerable amount of snowfall. Most of the land is dedicated to rice paddies, with early-harvested rice planted, soon to be harvested. This area boasts clear waters from Lake Biwa and stretches of sandy beaches, making it a popular destination for swimmers. The scent of barbecues wafts through the air, adding to the atmosphere. Shiga Prefecture, blessed with abundant water resources from Lake Biwa, is renowned for its temperate climate and fertile soil, making it one of the leading rice-producing areas in the country. It is known for producing high-quality strains of Omi rice like ‘Mizukagami’ and ‘Koshihikari,’ and next year, a new variety called ‘Kiramizuki’ will be introduced, said to rival or even surpass the taste of ‘Koshihikari’.
At 10:00 am, reservation tickets for the high school baseball finals that will be held tomorrow will go on sale. For my son and grandson who came all the way from Tokyo to watch the semi-finals and finals, I was forced to participate in the hot battle to get tickets. I promptly opened the ticket reservation site and waited for the start time of sales. As soon as 10 o’clock arrived, I tried to access the site, but the internet wouldn’t connect. The message “Due to an overwhelming number of reservations, it is difficult to establish a connection” appeared repeatedly, over and over again. This cycle repeated dozens of times. Even if I thought I had finally connected, I was rejected again during the process of the procedure. In this way, I managed to secure tickets for both the semifinal and today’s final game, but I am simply amazed by the fervor of this tournament. What will be the result of the final match between Sendai Ikuei and Keio tomorrow? The cheering match is also worth seeing.