Indian Summer and Koharu (小春) Biyori (日和) October 18, 2019
by Michizou Tachihara, translated by Fumie Thorpe
The stretch of pleasant sunny weather last week kept reminding me of the term “Indian Summer.” According to my search result, its use is meant to be after experiencing killing frost. We did have the first frost on October 4th, but it was not hard enough to bring an end to the growing season up here. Despite the definition, it came to me along with this line of a poem that I first read over 40 years ago.
We call the warmup after killing frost (or noticeable cool down toward the end of fall) Koharu (小春) Biyori (日和) in Japan. Koharu (小春) is an alternative name of October in Lunar Calendar that falls anywhere between late October and early December in Solar Calendar. The Chinese characters mean “Little (小) Spring (春).” Biyori, or hiyori depending on the context, (日和) indicates a right weather condition for a specific event to happen. So, Koharu (小春) Biyori (日和) means the nice weather, as if spring had come back after having a cold weather pattern that foreshadowed coming winter during a month of Lunar October (that is “Indian Summer” in English to me).
Indian Summer is said to have its origin in England, again, according to my search. Summer is no doubt the most pleasing season of all out there with longer daylight, reasonably warm temperatures and low humidity, due to their locality at higher latitude and on the western side of a continent. I don’t wonder why they think of summer when the enjoyable warm weather returns after winter-like chill.
On the contrary, summer is hot and moisture laden with lots of rain in Asia. Remember: Eastern to Southeastern Asia sits in the prominent monsoon zone, where the high annual rainfall enables there to be the largest rice producing region in the world. Summer is often sultry and uncomfortable (to say the least!); not quite the weather we imagine when pleasant warmth revisits following an early sign of winter. As the natural transition of seasons, we think of spring after undergoing some wintry weather.
Michizou Tachihara has been my single most beloved poet since I first encountered his works when I was in Junior High School. He died of tuberculosis in 1939 at the age of 25. He saw the surge of nationalism that divided and lead the world to the Second War. Those were the days when so many lives, especially youngsters, were lost to the war and diseases there, here and elsewhere even before they had a chance to know what life could have really meant.
Summer or spring; the difference in terminology reflects the language we speak and the climate we live in. But we all know the sense of comfort in the return of warmth in late fall – it’s a moment of joy in finding a “little spring,” to me, beyond the brilliant foliage and in the soft breeze that weaves through the vineyards.