2022 marks the 10th anniversary of my small business. I was so excited to embark on this endeavor after waiting 8 years for a green card that finally allowed me to work in the US. For this anniversary year, I wanted to push myself to write more as I find the whole writing process difficult. So I was delighted when I found the perfect literary enkindler: the 72 microseasons of old Japan.
When Meiji Japan replaced its calendar in 1872 as it sought to modernize and catch up with the rest of the world, many of the seasons expressed in the traditional version were no longer used in the new Gregorian calendar. In the old lunar calendar called kyureki, the year was divided into four seasons with each season sub-divided into three mini-seasons called sekki. But the most curious aspect of the kyureki were ko or microseasons that further divided each sekki into three, making a grand total of 72 microseasons in a year.
The 72 microseasons are fascinating because they have names like “east wind melts the ice” and “barley ripens” that literally depict subtle but distinct phenomenon in the surrounding nature. They are a testament to our farming history and how our ancestors lived close to the land that they depended upon. These days most Japanese have never heard of these microseasons, but in the last decade there has been a renewed interest with numerous books and online content published on the topic.
These microseasons have had the profound effect of triggering my memories in unique and personal ways. From childhood, summer has been my favorite season of the year and since today, May 5th, marks the start of summer in the Japanese calendar, it is the perfect day to begin recounting them. I hope that you will find my stories interesting and in some way intersect with your own experiences because I feel that it is my lifework to create deeper connections by communicating delicate gradations and subtleties of thought that transcends culture and language.
My essays will be accompanied by the vivid calligraphy of the 72 microseasons by Chieko, the mother of a good friend, who is a contemporary Japanese calligrapher currently residing in Kanagawa prefecture. Chieko first put ink on paper more than 70 years ago and her talent was soon recognized by her teacher who encouraged her to pursue the art form. She later studied under Kumagai Tsuneko (1893-1989), a renowned contemporary calligrapher at Daito Bunka University, who also taught calligraphy to the Japanese Empress Michiko.
Chieko’s love is for kanamoji calligraphy, a graceful and unique writing style using Japanese alphabets that were developed during the Heian Period (794-1192). However, for this 72 microseasons project, I requested Chieko to write the seasons in Kanji using regular to semi-cursive script, so that they will be legible and entice many people, even beginners learning kanji, to engage.
In creating the 72 microseasons calligraphy, Chieko used three kinds of ink: chaboku (brown ink), seiboku (blue ink), and kuro (black ink), which are rubbed on wet stone to release the pigments. Each piece is created quickly and deliberately because calligraphy is an ephemeral art form with no opportunity to make changes later.
For Chieko, the brushes are extensions of her hand and her work expresses her heart. Her immense focus lets the brush move freely, creating work that powerfully provokes strong emotions.
Calligraphy, while intrinsically imbuing meaning, leaves space for the imagination of the viewer that actual landscape photos do not. It is not necessary to be able to read the characters. Instead, please enjoy the flow, contrast, composition, and grace of the strokes, just like you would enjoy a painting.