If you have landed here – all I want to do is forewarn you that this is a slightly long read. And if you do decide to go ahead and read- I am beyond grateful for the kindness and the gift of your time.
This is a work of fiction.
It was a peculiar year, so peculiar that its happenings might seem to have occurred in a parallel world while mysteriously winding up, floating as a myth in ours! My Obaachan(grandmother) often reminded me of the tasogare(twilight)- and how deceptive light could be at this time. You see, strange things happen at twilight, sometimes even stranger things… like the Haru Ichiban that once made the most unusual announcement of spring.
It swept in, placid and bounteous from sea to land at the first sight of Venus in the sky. It was a day February bid goodbye. But, all across the eastern coasts of Kyushu, Shikoku and Honshu folks had stayed indoors. Huddled around their vacuums tube radios, they had tuned in to the inconsistent staticky and scratchy warnings from NHK’s national broadcast of a potential storm a few hours earlier. They feared the worst, which never came to be!
Aside from the two Douglas B-26 Invaders thundering across the skies on a combat mission to Korea, there was none of the expected flying debris or broken trees or flooded rivers from sudden snowmelt. When night finally fell, streets across Edo, Osaka, Nagoya, and Yokohama bred silences that bore witness to a hushed pact between the gas-lit streetlights and the chinquapin trees. One bore witness to a nation’s reincarnation amidst the debris of defeat, the other signalled the advent of change with the rustling of leaves.
At dawn, the gale meandered playfully like a monk resuming its pilgrimage after a night’s rest- tickling trees green with its warm smile and whispering a blooming spell upon the hibernating ume, momo, and sakura blossoms. This change of heart melted winters’ and it relented with no counter-attack of a final frost. The buds nestled in their dark brown cribs sleepily opened their pinkish tips as the blanket of powdered snow around their inflorescence began to melt drop by drop.
Behind the still devastated Senso-ji (temple), the ever-resplendent Amaterasu (Sun Goddess) had begun to make her graceful accent. In her worship, these buds, on the verge of bloom, offered the wind their honeyed fragrance. The Komainu pairs (Lion Dog Statues) who stood guard at the shrine ground, got a whiff of this and they too in unison let out that deep resonant primordial sound announcing Her arrival. Soon, the Sun’s upper rim shined through the grey translucent sheets and fanned out in bands of dark and light rays which lent the Sumida (the river near the temple) a certain sparkle in her flow; And she, thus, filled with awe in the surrealness of this morning, burbled in absolute delight.
An Ojii-san (old man), perhaps the only person blessed to be sitting on the riverbed at this time, looked up from his reverie and was reminded of Basho :
“At the ume fragrance,
Suddenly the sun rises;
The mountain path.”
Indeed the tip of Fuji-san was now gleaming from a distance, like it was trying to signal the itinerant monk to linger no longer but continue towards Shiramine and seek guidance at the feet of that revered mountain kami(god), Haku-san.
I always wondered what had brought about this yusuragi- that sense of inner stillness in this wind? No one knows for sure; But I was reliably told by Sagami-bo, the long-nosed goblin of Shiramine that its wild raging heart was calmed at the feet of an Okinawan Kijimuna( tree spirit).
Long ago, Konohana-Sakuya-Hime (The Spring Blossom Princess) and Yuki Onna (The Elderly Snow Spirit Woman) didn’t quite see eye to eye. Afflicted by perception, both the women created myriad ideological realities about each other that were often farther from the truth. The Princess thought the Snow Spirit was a terrible being for the hardships she inflicted upon the world while the Snow Spirit, perceived the Princess to be immensely immature given her tendency to cast transient illusions of happiness.
Once, during Kami-Ari-Zuki- the 10th Lunar month-all the 8 million deities-except for Ebisu, the patron god of fisherfolk and good fortune, descended upon the Izumo Taisha Shrine for an annual conference. The gathering was to deliberate upon the fate of man in the forthcoming year. After paying their respects to the chief enshrined god of the temple- Okuninushi (the first ruler of the terrestrial world)- the deities began assembling around a large wooden table in the Honden (Main Hall). Amongst the first to come through was the Sakuya-Hime who glided in like radiant sakura. With every step, she took towards her seat a faint fragrance of almonds wafted in the air. Then, the greyish-brown thatched roof and hinoki hall walls began sprouting spindly dark branches of the Edohigan Zakura tree. From these, clusters upon clusters of glistening cherry blossoms bloomed, first in a shade of pale pink and then turning white. As she sat down on her designated seat- third from the head on the right side of the table, a synchronized, elegant, and slow flutter of the petals ensued and the hall now began to resembled some garden from the heavens.
Soon, Fujin- the demonic-looking, four-fingered God of Wind drifted in on his fluffy cumulus cloud. Strung across his shoulder was his open-mouthed bag that held the various winds he issued. This bag he promptly placed on the chair next to him- to reserve it for his brother Raijin, the God of Thunder-while he sat facing the Princess. Sensing the fragrance of almonds, one of the winds in Fujin’s bag, the Haru Ichiban, got intrigued. Curiosity caused him to clamber out of the mouth and just as he did so, he was met with the vision of the most breath-taking being he had ever seen- the Princess. He stood stunned in her presence and blushed unabashedly, smitten as he was by her youthfulness and radiance. As he stood gazing at her, the Yamakaze (mountain wind) and Soyokaze (summer breeze) desperately tried to pull him back in the bag. Fujin, noticing the fuss- sternly looked at the gale displaying his razor-sharp fangs. The poor Haru Ichiban, petrified beyond his wits for angering Fujin, whizzed his way back into the bag.
Amongst the last few deities to walk in was the frighteningly beautiful- Yuki Onna. She was tall, lean with long sooty hair tied perfectly in a top-knot. Her skin was marbelesque and seemed ageless, while her face was embellished with thin ruby lips and gleaming reddish-blue eyes. She carried herself stoically towards her seat at the farthest side the Princess sat. As she sat down a chilly mist enveloped the floor sending icy tingles up the soles of the feet of those already seated. Taking a glance around her, she frigidly exclaimed “Are we here for a conference or a Hanami (sakura viewing party)? Some of us are so self-consumed to even understand the importance of these meetings!”
Hearing this, the Princess shot back “Some of us have hard-frozen hearts, simply incapable of grasping concepts of hope and beauty! What a waste!”
The Yuki-Onna, smirked and as she did so, frost appeared around each cherry blossom, soon enough the flowers began to wither. Not to be undone- the Princess merely snapped her finger at which the ice began to thaw and new blooms appeared.
And this led to a smirk and snap match between the two women. Now, the gods are seldom affected by theatrics- but they are always game for a little amusement- especially when it’s between confrontational spirits.
Finally, Amaterasu made her way in. Glowing as she walked to the head of the table. Her resplendence instantly put an end to all the flowering and frosting. She proceeded to quickly but calmly acknowledged everyone’s presence, even Ebisu’s who’s empty chair was next to hers but who was away watching out for Man in the absence of these Gods at the conference. And then in a slow, low-pitched, and serene voice, she spoke, “We are gathered here to dwell upon the fate of Man over the next twelve months- it would help if all could display maturity and good humor in equal measure!”
While higher beings find it easy to put away their misgivings in the process of accomplishing a task, it is much harder for beings with weaker control over their emotions. The Haru Ichiban, stricken with infatuation towards the Princess, didn’t take too kindly to the slight shown to her by the Yuki Onna. He vowed then and there to eliminate every sight of frost he encountered.
But all vows made in silence or otherwise reach Amaterasu. Upon hearing this vow- She gave Fujin a meaningful glance which he acknowledged and accepted with a grunt. It remains unknown what transpired between the minds of the Sun and Wind but the following events transpired in that aftermath.
A few moons after the Lunar Year, which had been ushered in with loud clanging of bells in anticipation of spring, the lands were still steeped in deep snow.
Far away near the foothills of Mt Hakusan, on the day chill bit the bone, a few Yuki Usuragi (snow hare) were scampering away with some daikon they had scavenged. One of the younglings, sensing something about the air, stopped in his track and standing on his hind legs, looked up. It seemed eventide was early and indigo was hurriedly diffusing in the sky. On a distant horizon, a slow drum of thunder and a low shrill the wind could be heard proclaiming the ominous oncoming of the brothers, Fujin and Raijin. They were making their way through the skies after undertaking heavens tiresome bidding in a different realm.
The hurried scampering of the rabbits had already caught Raijin’s eyes and he remarked, “Yuki Onna always saves the best for the last, doesn’t she! She has everyone exhausted in anticipation of warmer weather.”
“It’s such a pain, honestly. I’m so tempted to blow this all away now!” replied Fujin
“Or you could roll the dice for confrontation,” Raijin winked
A grinning Fujin replied, “Hmm, You are right. Perhaps I should send Haru Ichiban….”
As instructed, Haru Ichiban was to encourage the blossoming of Ume, which would in turn let Yuki-Onna know that Sakuya-Hime was ready for her turn.
Now, the gale had a stormy and rebellious streak and deep in his heart, he couldn’t wait to chase winter away after the slight she had given Sakuya-Hime. Or so he believed. The “rampage” was set in motion by blowing in as a strong southerly that rattled and broke many prayers and wish plaques across shrines in Okinawa. Clothes left for drying were also blown far away, much to the people’s dismay, and trees that were barely leafing out were beginning to feel threatened with the intensity of the warm wind.
The Yuki-Onna, riled with this unnecessary impetuous behaviour, shot back with a blitzkrieg of a snowstorm that gave the impression of winter, regressing with a vengeance. She could have put up with the fight longer and was well capable of vanquishing the gale- but she realized that slipping into immaturity would anger Amaterasu. Besides, she might even be forced to delay her onset in the year ahead. That was certainly something she didn’t want.
Unlike the Snow Spirit, better thinking was not Haru Ichiban’s forte. Not to be outdone, he redoubled his efforts. Starting early morning one day, he landed up near every tree on a street, garden, shrine, or hill to ensure the blooming of Ume and Sakura. This sudden rise in temperatures caused a flash flood. It also brought in illness. But there was no easing the gale. By and by towards twilight, it came face to face with an old but imposing Gajumaru (type of Banyan Tree) in the temple premise of Sogen-Ji( temple). It is said that the tree’s stout roots that grew from its branches gave it feet to walk towards those who needed healing from Mother Earth. And given the sudden outbreak of phlegm and fevers- it was just about to do that.
The Gajumaru seemed to have some remnants of frost left on its branches, the sight of which angered Haru Ichiban, and without even giving a thought to who he faced- he decided to blow with all his might to try and uproot the tree itself.
The first few blows did nothing to the sacred tree and it kept its graceful poise, hoping the wind would blow past. But when the wind persisted with its stubbornness- the trees Kijimuna (spirit)- in the form of a young five-year-old girl monk came out and locked her eyes with the wind.
“And why do you feel the need to uproot me?” She asked Haru Ichiban.
Perhaps the sight of the little girl bolstered the gales impudence and he deemed it fit to respond curtly, “Can’t you see, it’s time to let frost go? Do it now, or I’ll uproot you this instant!
The little girl smiled, “The joys of Spring are meaningless outside the rigors of Winter! And what use are Winter rigors without the consequence of Spring?
“Winter is collective misery, who wants that?! She is bitter and mean and shuts everything down!” The wind barked back.
“She sounds like medicine!”
“Listen, little girl, step aside and let me do my job. You either melt the frost or I blow you away!”
The girl laughed, “I don’t think it’s your job to uproot anything, let alone trees! You seem to be consumed with some misguided notions. I don’t think even the Snow Spirit or The Princess are vested in each other as much as you are in them! I think you need some perspective….” And with that, the little girl with her little mighty hands caught the wind in one swoop and locked him in a transparent orb she created from her mind.
The wind stupefied at what had just happened and even more, by who did this to him- tried desperately to break free from his confinement. He huffed and puffed and chuffed as hard as he could but to no avail. The air just hit the enclosure and bounced back at him in equal force. He was stuck in that little globe that floated in the air.
The girl looked up at The Orb and spoke to the wind. “Don’t fret so much! Try and stay still, it’s the only thing that will help you. And while you are at it, watch and observe. The Orb will bring you back to me when you are ready.”
Trapped as he was, the gale went where The Orb took him. It floated in fields, amid forests and mountains, and soared the skies above the clouds and then back again. No one sensed its presence or felt its absence. It was as if he did not exist outside of The Orb. The cycle of nature resumed, other winds carried forward his work, and nature went about its way. The Haru Ichiban quietly observed it all as it was the only thing it could do.
What did he observe you ask?
In the initial few days, Haru Ichiban noticed how seamlessly Winter loosened her grip and let Spring take reign. This seemed strange given how ideologically opposed they were to each other. Soon, his observation would lead him to deduce that nature has its own rhythm in which there is an implicit order amid apparent confusion and heeding dictates of any individual temper would only cause ruin. It is also the reason that despite ‘differences’ the Kamigami (Gods) are always coactive.
In the days leading up to shunbun no hi ( Vernal Equinox), there was a happy stir everywhere. The slow melt of snow, let rivers course through and fuse life into Earth’s veins, stimulating flora to poke their leaves. A pinprick flood of white, pink, red and magenta ensued, followed by the sight of a beautiful map butterfly that hovered from flower to flower with wings that seemed like fragments of a mirror. Songbirds flew back from their winter homes and cooed beautiful melodies that gently awakened hibernating creatures.
“Everything seems to be pleasant,” the wind mused “why would anyone ever want Winter?”
But it was soon after the Hanami, that the reasons for the ephemerality of Springs charms became apparent as well as the fact that even pleasantness had its tendency to breed bugs.
The Orb that encased Haru Ichiban, now floated over to the rest of the archipelago. The swell of the blooms was steadily progressing in shape and colour and it excited him to glance at elegant sketches made of the Cherry Blossom tree, hear the conversation about their beauty and read inspired haikus and poetry.
But with every passing moment, this innocent appeal of the flowers had now begun to overwhelm him. Soon a pink and white snowfall ensued, with frail petals floating about everywhere. Some even stuck to The Orb, trapping him in a pink haze- making him see nothing but red for days! He was grateful for a brief downpour that managed to wash those pesky petals away only to notice how they covered walk paths and found themselves in food and drink and everything conceivable. The very folks who sat down for the viewing parties pondered briefly upon these fragile beauties and then attention quickly veered to feasting on onigiri and sakura mochi and drinking sake. How peculiar he thought this was-that the intense excitement that was built up for spring lasted merely a few weeks- as focus resumed on the very practical aspects of living. He noted how the thrills of the bloom were at best- transient and that this sense of ‘never-lasting’ was a key aspect of the experience that was to be truly relished in future contemplation.
Finally, for those who still lingered around the trees weeks after the peak-the tiger mosquitoes arrived to literally bite them away.
As Summer and Autumn passed by, he saw a similar pattern- in Summer the joys of harvest were coupled with unbearable humidity and Autumn’s fall foliage made way to dreary brown barren lands and almost skeletal trees. And he mused upon how depressing it was to watch them without their flowers or frost….
At the final burst of colour, The Haru Ichiban, still housed in The Orb, found himself at the top of Mt. Asahidake in Hokkaido. The skies were clear and sparkling while everything else below had wilted and shrivelled up and was waiting to be covered before sleep. As the temperature dropped sub-zero, The Kogarashi (icy northerly wind) was heard gleefully howling away like a hound. Hearing this, the gale made a mental note that if he ever got out and found himself together with Kogarashi in Fujin’s bag- he would tell it to his face how terrifying he sounded!
And just as he was lost in his thoughts, magic began to unfurl. First a pristine snowflake snaked its way past The Orb, then a second one floated by like a feather and then troupes upon troupes of snow petals waltzed their way from the sky in an enthralling choreography – the likes of which he had never seen before. They seemed to be summoned for the final curtain call before the world’s slumber. And as each finished their part, they went and quietly laid themselves on the ground…in layers and layers of white pristine blankets. While also clothing the skeletal and evergreen trees- which were now a sight for sore eyes.
Life had slowed down and withdrawn into thoughtful reflection of the past, present and what was yet to be- amid the snow induced muffled silences. The Haru Ichiban finally began to see how necessary this was – this transition to solitude, this letting go for a while to get a better grip later.
The Orb had now began its journey back home and as it hovered across various places, the Haru Ichiban was spell bound watching the warm fires burning brightly in homes and hearts. As he heard giggles of victory after snowball fights, he couldn’t help but rejoice in his heart. Cute snow bunnies were built everywhere with ruby red berries for eyes and green leaves for their ears, while in Nagano- the snow monkeys were seen relaxing in a hot spring.
“None of this is dull or bleak…it is poignant and reposeful!” Haru Ichiban thought aloud.
As the travels came to an end, the gale found itself facing the Kijimuna of the Gajumaru- the little girl who now stood smiling.
“Well? Do you still wish to uproot me?” She asked Haru Ichiban as she freed him from his confinement.
The gale nodded his head side to side. “I greatly erred in my judgement. Each season has its rhythm and its purpose which vital for survival- none is greater or lesser than the other. Besides, that little frost you bear on your branch, is a beautiful reminder of the teachings of Winter amid our engagement with Spring”.
The girl smiled again, happy at Haru Ichiban’s transformation.
“I have a task for you! Would you like to do it for me? She asked the wind.
“Are you going to encase me again?” blurted Haru Ichiban
“No! No!” The girl laughed.
“ There is this boy all the way in Shiramine, at the foothills of Mt. Hakusan. He is in need of help- I have a feeling you might be able to do that.”
“ Me?!. Are you Sure?”
“Yes! Go there and see what you can do for him. He spend every twilight on a little hill near his home thinking of his father.”
“But before you meet him, don’t forget to seek blessings of the sacred mountain!”
The Haru Ichiban nodded. And now filled with a purpose…he began his voyage to the little boy.
That boy was me 🙂
*I offer this at the feet of Sri Hari who abounds in benevolence and My Master who inspires me every day!🙏🏼🙏🏼♥️
*This story is a work of absolute fiction.
*If you took the time to read this, I am indebted in gratitude to you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart ♥️
* Photo by Evgeny Tchebotarev from Pexels