At the beginning of June, we start worrying about the rainy season setting in.
On our traditional calendar, the rainy season starts on June 11 and continues for forty days.
However, the actual beginning and end of the rainy season varies from year to year.
Tsuyu, or the Japanese rainy season, reminds us of ume plums.
Because it is the season when plums ripen, we call the long rainy season tsuyu (梅雨), or literally “plum rain.”
The pleasant smell of ripe plum fills the air.
Plums dressed in with sparkling raindrops bear a somewhat loveable cuteness.
Ume plums eventually appear in local stores, marking the beginning of a busy season.
I start with the green plums.
These become ume plum juice.
When you wash the plums and wipe them gently before the end of June, you will find that the smooth surface is covered with white skin fuzz as soft as a baby.
After I gently wipe each plum with care, I put them in a glass jar, covering them up with sugar.
As the days go by the sugar gradually melts and the jar becomes filled with an amber-colored juice.
“The juice has come up to here today.”
It is almost like watching a child grow.
Perhaps I should label the jar “Umeko.”
I look forward to enjoying the sweet-sour fragrance again this summer.
The green plums are followed by the ripe yellow Nankobai plums.
The yellow fruit fills the air with a sweet aroma, sometimes with a boozy vibe, as I prepare them.
These, of course, are for umeboshi (pickled plums).
It takes quite a lot of work, salting them and spreading them out on a flat bamboo basket in the sun, but again, the feeling is like that of taking care of small children.
So, from June to July, tis the season when my days are fully dedicated to ume plums.
During the rainy season, the days are spent preparing the plums and preserving them in sugar or salt. When I dry the plums in the sun around the midsummer day of the ox, at the end of the rainy season, it means July is about to end.
Despite the time and work that needs to be dedicated, I cannot resist preparing ume plums every year, perhaps because I am enchanted by the aroma.
It’s about time I washed my jars and dried them.
Illustrated and written by Emiko Hirano
Illustrator and essayist. Born in Shizuoka Prefecture in 1961 and raised in Yokohama. Has published many illustrations and essays on mountain hiking, travels and lifestyles.
A Casual Fragrance Calendar