Autumn falls early in the calendar, but the Japanese expression "zansho" (lingering heat) feels just right for this period following the mid-August Bon holidays. The trees and grass lose their vivid green, and people begin to show signs of summer fatigue.
In a wooded park in my neighborhood, cicadas drone on. It is as if they are challenging summer to a test of endurance.
Their noise reminds me of this poem by Tatsuji Miyoshi (1900-1964): "Cicadas sing/ They are busy/ God has wound up their clock/ They know they must unwind it completely/ Before summer takes its leave."
In fact, their frenzied screech seems to crank up the temperature, too.
I once wrote in this column that just looking at the kanji character for "suzushii" (cool) makes me feel cooler. In response, one reader sent me a postcard with this single kanji filling up the entire space. Handwritten in watery black ink, it was as welcome as a cool breeze.
I also received a letter from a lady named Suzu, whose maiden name had been Tanigawa (mountain stream). "The combination was perfect for summer," she wrote.
Another reader wrote: "I am attracted to women with a cool appearance and cool sensibility." The refined handwriting seemed to be that of an elderly gentleman.
I recall this passage from an essay by Kuniko Mukoda (1929-1981) about "mizuyokan," traditional sweets made of jellied red bean paste. "The requirement of a good mizuyokan," she wrote, "is that its sides be smooth and ruler-straight, as if it had been sliced by a master swordsman like Miyamoto Musashi or Nemuri Kyoshiro. It's not a mizuyokan if its corners don't seem sharp enough to cut your finger."
Mukoda's strength of feeling makes me want to run out and buy this cool, sweet summer treat.
Severe, lingering heat is forecast for the week ahead. We will just have to try to stay cool and think cool while we await the first signs of autumn. Let's take care of ourselves and leave all the droning to cicadas.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 19
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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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