Some of the letters I get from readers responding to my seasonal observations in this column remind me of the length of Japan.
When I wrote about "ume" apricot flowers, for instance, a reader in southern Japan told me they had long fallen, while a reader living up north said the buds were still tight in the snow. I am sometimes chided for writing only about Tokyo.
Daigaku Horiguchi (1892-1981), a poet who grew up in Niigata Prefecture, felt that "yayoi" (the old name for March) did not arrive until April in northern Japan. He penned this poem about his hometown near the end of his life: "It is April now/ The time has come for flagrant apricots, cherries, peaches and plums to all bloom as they please ..." The poem evokes a vivid image of flowers bursting forth all at once in northern Japan's much awaited spring.
An old "kouta" ballad goes: "Are the apricots here? Is it still too early for the cherries?" I believe this is how people in warmer parts of the country feel in early spring. Apricots, peaches and cherries bloom in that order, starting in the south.
According to a book I looked at, the difference in their blooming seasons is shorter in the north. In the northern Tohoku region, all three flowers can be seen in late April, and in May in Hokkaido across the Tsugaru Strait.
We talk a lot about the "sakura zensen" (cherry blossom front) traveling north. But there are also "fronts" of various types of magnolias and modest little flowers such as violets all moving through the nation in gentle ripples.
The poet Takuboku Ishikawa (1886-1912), who died a century ago on April 13, wrote in his diary: "This is the most delightful season of 'satsuki' rhododendrons in the village of Shibutami. This is the time to gather up spring around the country and send it north."
This entry was made in May. Ishikawa's exhilaration over the much-awaited arrival of spring in his native Iwate Prefecture echoes the sentiment of Horiguchi's poem.
When I called the Ishikawa Takuboku Memorial Hall in Iwate, I was informed there was still some snow left on the fields and the cherry buds were tight, but "fukinoto"(edible butterbur stalks) were finally emerging from the wintry ground.
It is but a short wait until the time when spring can be “gathered up” around the country.
--The Asahi Shimbun, April 14
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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