April Seasonal Notes

April 2008

frogs are back
singing in the creek
tadpoles soon

Though April is a month of cherries, cherries, cherries there are other themes and symbols that signal the spring, such as frogs.  None is more famous than Basho’s haiku poem about the frog jumping into the old pond.  Since the Kokinshu the frog has appeared in numerous haiku and waka. The poetic name “frog’s voice” for a karamono katatsuki chaire comes from a poem in the Shin Kokin Wakashu — if heard at an appropriate time, the frog’s evening chorus in the rice paddies has a certain appeal.”  Frogs have also been used for lugs of a kettle, a lid rest, a paperweight and other things.  There is something tasteful about it.

I would also like to mention willow.  There is the seasonal scroll  – yanagi wa midori, hana wa kurenai, the willow is green and the flower is red.   There are a few willow trees near the creek in the park near my house.  The new leaves have come out on the branches in the most beautiful delicate shade of green. It is one of my favorite sights.

How strange that the spring
when young green willow branches
twist together threads
should be the time when blossoms
burst in tangles from their coats

~Tsurayuki from the Kokin Wakashu

April 2007

Negawakuba
hana no moto
nite ware shinan
so no kisaragi no
mochi zuki no koro

~ Saigy? H?shi

If I have my wish
I would die beneath the boughs
laden with blossoms
Spring, the night of the full moon
second month of the new year

April is cherry blossom month. Even the news in Japan report when and where the sakura are in bloom. The sakura are revered in tea because the peak of the flowers lasts for only a few days and reflects the transiency of life. Tea gatherings and picnic meals along with drinking are held outdoors under the cherry trees in bloom to celebrate hanami, or flower viewing.

the hills once again
clothed in a flower brocade
above the city

Many tea utensils have flowers, specifically, sakura to choose from for this month: chashaku carved from cherry wood, hana ire made from cherry bark, natsume with a night view of cherry blossoms. Poetic names that incorporate flowers, such as hana ikada – flower raft, Yoshino – famous cherry viewing spot, hatsu sakura – first cherry blossoms, hana no kage – shadow of cherry blossoms, unkin – cloud brocade (refers to the hillside covered with pink clouds of cherry blossoms). Note that the convention of depicting cherry blossoms has an indent at the end of the petals as opposed to a rounded petal that depict ume or plum blossoms.

Not to get too carried away by all the cherry blossoms, Rikyu advised, “For those who are on their way back from viewing cherry blossoms, drawings of flowers as well as cherry blossoms should not be shown.” Other themes that can be used at this time: oboryo – misty moon, wakare jimo – departing frost, hana dori – birds coming to the cherry blossoms, shun pu – spring breeze, and yanagi – young willow.

References:

An Anthology of the Seasonal Feeling in Chanoyu, by Michael A. Birch

Chado: The Way of Tea, A Japanese Tea Master’s Almanac, translated from the Japanese by Shaun McCabe and Iwasaki Satoko.

Notes from Midorikai lectures, 1996-1997

 

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