24 Solar Term : SHOUKAN (from about 5th January to 20th January)
The coldest period of the year is called ‘Kan’, meaning midwinter. We have another expression for this time of the year as ‘Kan no iri’, meaning entering midwinter. ‘Shoukan’ used for this term is ‘Kan’ which is ‘shou’, ‘shou’ meaning small or less. Therefore the meaning of Shoukan is less midwinter, telling us that midwinter has arrived followed by ‘Daikan’ meaning big or more ‘Kan’ next.
Still, comparing ‘Shoukan’ and ‘Daikan’ by the words and the term themselves, ‘Shoukan’ should be less cold than following ‘Daikan’ but there is a unique phrase as ‘Shoukan no kori, Daikan ni toku’ meaning that the ice formed in Shoukan melts in Daikan. This expresses that Shoukan is colder and harsh than Daikan which could be because people are not so used to the cold weather in the beginning of midwinter coldness. The phrase also has a meaning of things not going or flowing in order.
Winter greetings called ‘Kanchu mimai’ start from this time of the year. This seasonal greeting is made by sending postcards to those you love and care but is more done by those who refrained from sending New Year greeting postcards on New Year because in mourning nowadays. ‘Kanchu mimai’ gifts are also sent as return gifts of ‘Oseibo’ (a custom in Japan at the end of the year, paying ones respect and thanks by calling on with gifts or sending gifts) or New Year gifts.
72 Seasons : MAKKOU – “Kiji hajimete naku” (from about 15th January to 19th January)
The coldest record of the weather this winter is renewed everyday after last ‘Jikou’ season though we don’t feel the cold worse as we felt few days ago. We are surely getting used to the cold weather as well as our feelings not motivated on hearing the temperature that lowers day by day. Still, on a cloudy and gloomy day like in Tokyo today, we wish that there will be sunshine between the thick clouds, at least on a time that we have to go out. Now, everybody outside have something warm to wear when they go out in Japan but cannot let go of the eager wish for the warm season to come as soon as possible.
The Japanese ancestors should have hoped for the time to pass fast, for the spring to arrive, as we do today. They were keen on finding glimpse of spring even on snow or in parts where they cannot see to comfort and cheer themselves up, telling themselves that they won’t have to bear the cold weather that long.
The season’s phrase today is another hope for the spring’s arrival. It’s about ‘Kiji’, the Green PheasantW, a bird that has been well-acquainted to the Japanese and a national birdW of Japan. You can find the bird as a material in many Japanese paintings as it is one of the most colourful birds in Japan. It was also thought to be a lucky bird, especially with albino pheasants, that the name of an era was changed when the white pheasant was caught and offered to the Emperor.
The next following word, ‘hajimete’ is and adverb meaning for the first time. The last word is ‘naku’, a verb meaning to tweet or to call. So, the meaning of the whole phrase would be Green pheasants start to call.
Green pheasants’ calls were an interest of the people in the past before scientific equipment to estimate earthquakes in Japan as they believed the male pheasants call sharp foretelling the earthquake. But the call of the pheasants at this time of the year is usually of the courtship, for the female pheasants, reminding that the spring is coming near.
First Full Moon Festival (KOSHOUGATSU)
On 15th January, there are some places that still celebrate the ‘Koshougatsu’ custom. We named the title of this chapter in English, ‘First Full Moon FestivalW’, to give you the basic idea of how the festival begun. Still, not many Japanese now know that the ‘Koshougatsu’ custom originates to the full moon festival in China. About 50 years ago, ‘Koshougatsu’, literary meaning ‘little or small New Year’ celebrations were more distinct compared to today as the celebration is related on farming and harvest. Some places celebrate Koshogatsu with decorations made from small pieces of rice cakes made into balls and coloured, stuck onto tree branches made to look like cocoons of silkworms called ‘Mayu-dama’, wishing for good silk harvesting.
There are some places where women are free from the hard work of preparations and giving welcome to ToshigamiW, the year god in their house. They call the ‘Koshougatsu’ as ‘Onna shougatsu’, meaning, women’s New Year.
The typical dish of ‘Koshougatsu’ is a congee with Azuki beans. This tradition was said to be started in the Imperial Court in Heian periodW which was a custom in China on the first full moon of the New Year to get rid of the evil powers inside and outside people’s body. The custom originates also to the ‘Nanakusa-no-sekku’.
Winter basket clams (KAN SHIJIMI)
Basket clams or CorbiculidaeW is a small bivalve that lives in freshwater and in brackish waters all over Japan. It is called ‘Shijimi’ and has been one of major foodstuff in Japan. Shijimi is eaten or made into soup stocks throughout the year but are thought to be best in nutrition at this time of the year. The Shijimi at this time of the year is called ‘Kan shijimi’, meaning winter shijimi and are distinguished from other season shijimis. (There is also another seasonal special shijimi in midsummer called ‘Doyo shijimi’.)
Shijimi as a soup stock is delicious with misoW made into shijimi miso soup. It is said to have good effect on hangovers as Shijimi contains many OrnithineW which works effectively on liver. Many supplements related on Shijimi, effective on liver of the people who drink a lot, are sold in Japan. Some housewives cook their own Shijimi miso soup for their darling husbands when their husbands have to attend many business meals with alcohol at the end of the year or in the beginning of the New Year.
It is also said to be good for anemia as it contains many iron.
Shijimi is also boiled down in soy sauce as preserves called ‘tsukudaniW’ which was one of the major side dish in past Japan.
Shijimi has long been a power food in Japan, common, and were read a lot as a seasonal word in HaikuW and other Japanese classic poetry as ‘Kan Shijimi’, pointing this time of the season.