February is the first month of spring.
The air is severely cold. Yet, we wake up to risshun, or the beginning of spring on the morning after setsubun, when we throw roasted soy beans in the evening to drive out the demons.
The traditional lunar calendar marks each season in advance.
But people have in fact experienced the change of the seasons according to this calendar.
Risshun is the first day of the traditional lunar year.
Days become longer, and genuine spring is almost here.
Those plum blossoms will begin to bloom soon.
I must go and see for myself.
There is a river running at the bottom of the hill where my house stands, with wet and dry fields spreading on both sides.
In one corner of the fields is a plum orchard. Every year, magnificent white flowers bloom from the trees, beautifully.
The plums are meant to be picked. But when the flowers are in full bloom, the orchard is enveloped in a sour-sweet scent, and for a brief moment we can enjoy the flowers.
I think it might be only ten years or so since I first started to appreciate plum blossoms.
I had not had many chances to enjoy plum trees or their blossoms before. I had not been aware of how fascinating they were.
It was a picture, and not real flowers, that first caught my attention and enchanted me
--Yorunoume (Plum Blossoms at Night) by Suzuki Harunobu, the Ukiyoe artist.
A girl on a bridge holding a lamp was looking up at white plum blossoms, against pitch darkness.
I could almost sense the scent of the blossoms.
“Plum blossoms. This is the first time I noticed them.”
Since then, I learned to notice plum trees. I began to spot plum trees blossoming like white paper lamps against the harsh and cold winter scenery.
Once, as I was walking through a residential area in the night, there was a sweet fluffy smell. I looked around to find a plum tree in someone’s backyard. It was in full bloom, with its branches spread out to the street.
I enjoy seeing plums from a distance, and also looking at their pretty flowers at close range.
Those bowl-shaped flowers that cling to the branches - the round buds are also adorable.
“Plums are rewarding.”
Kamata no Umezono (Plum Orchard in Kamata) and Kameido Umeyashiki (The Plum Park in Kameido) in Meisho Edo Hyakkei (One Hundred Famous Views of Edo) by Utagawa Hiroshige, both express how the people of Edo appreciated at plum trees.
In addition, the scent of the plums can almost be detected from the pictures.
The day after risshun, the plum orchard by the river close to my house was nearly in full bloom.
The traditional lunar calendar can be trusted, as I had thought.
The whiteness of the blossoms was almost dazzling against the clear blue Kanto sky, special to this season.
Perhaps it was because of the radiance, that I could not capture the sweet scent of the plums very well.
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