Keichitsu (Insects Awaken)Culture Lifestyle
Keichitsu (Insects Awaken), falls on approximately March 6 in the modern calendar. Despite its common English name, this marks the time when not only insects but also other small creatures like frogs, snakes, and lizards that have been hibernating underground start to emerge, enticed by the warmer weather. Around this period, peach trees start to bloom, caterpillars turn into butterflies, and each shower of rain invokes a sense of spring. It is also a season to set goals, and for new beginnings.
This article will look at events and natural phenomena in the period roughly from March 6 to 20.
Peach trees generally bloom from late March to early April, after the plum blossoms. Originally from China, these auspicious trees, were soon imported to Japan, and peach kernels have been found in ruins dating from the Yayoi period (ca. 300 BC–300 AD). In the Heian period (794–1185), peach blossom decorations featured in the Hinamatsuri, or doll festival, while ornamental flowering peach trees were developed during the Edo period (1603–1868). The numerous varieties are a delight to behold, such as weeping peach trees, and Genpei hanamomo, which has red, pink and white blossoms on the same tree.
According to Japan’s oldest book of legends and history, the eighth-century Kojiki, when the god Izanagi escaped from Yomi, the realm of the dead, he threw three peach seeds to drive away the evil spirits, whereby the peach came to be considered a lucky fruit. By displaying peach flowers during Hinamatsuri, parents pray for the health of their daughters.
This is a kigo or season word used in settings such as haiku and the tea ceremony, deriving from how the eleventh-century Chinese poet Guo Xi described the spring mountains. They have a cheerful atmosphere when peach trees and yamazakura (mountain cherries) are in bloom.
Japan has over 100 varieties of violets, which have long been mentioned in poetry. Tachitsubo sumire (Viola grypoceras) are a familiar species, common from Hokkaidō through to Okinawa.
Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694) wrote the haiku: Yamaji kite / naniyara yukashi / sumiresō (On a mountain path, / somehow enchanting— / violet flowers), expressing his surprise and wonder at the encounter with the lovely blooms.
Kinomedoki (Trees Budding)
This time of year is also called kinomedoki, which means “trees budding.” As well as being a period of fluctuations in temperature, this is also the peak of the hay fever season, with cedar and cypress shedding pollen. Tomatoes and shiso are said to be good for prevention of hay fever, while other popular hay fever remedies include aromas such as tea tree and eucalyptus.
Kinome, another way of writing “tree buds” is an alternative name for sanshō (Japanese pepper). It is perfect ground and mixed with young bamboo shoots. Sanshō is also an essential topping for kabayaki grilled eel. It is commonly used metaphorically to refer to something that, while small, is talented or effective.
Kasugasai (March 13)
Nara’s world heritage Kasugataisha Shrine has celebrated its annual festival Kasugasai in spring since 849. Because it enshrines the imperial family, the emperor sends a special envoy to pray for the peace and prosperity of the nation.
White Day (March 14)
Men who received chocolates from women for Valentine’s Day return the favor on March 14, known as White Day in Japan. The custom is said to have been instigated by Japanese confectionery makers.
Spring varieties of cabbage and peas appear in supermarkets at this time of year, as do new season onions, which have a distinct sweetness and are delicious in soup or as part of a salad. Such vegetables are best enjoyed while in season.
The sawara mackerel is in season during spring, and its kanji 鰆 also combines the characters for fish and spring. It has long been considered a propitious food, and is often served at celebrations. Sawara is perfect as sashimi, broiled, stewed or in suimono clear broth. Its omega-3 fatty acids are said to improve blood flow and health in general.
Sansai (Wild Vegetables)
Wild vegetables like udo, zenmai, and warabi start to go on sale; their distinct bitterness can only be enjoyed in spring. These vegetables are served as tempura or boiled and flavored with soy sauce and sugar. In traditional medicine, they are used to improve heart function and circulation.
(Translated from Japanese. Supervised by Inoue Shōei, calendar researcher and author, Shintō priest, and guest lecturer at Tōhoku Fukushi University. Banner photo: A frog from the field. © Pixta.)