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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spring proverb


Blossom in Hagi Castle.

In spite of it being the end of March, spring is very slow coming this year in Japan, with the occasional fine tepid day followed by a fierce reversion to wintry rain and bluster. However, this Monday having been the Shunbun no Hi (i.e. Vernal Equinox) holiday, we are officially well into spring.

So how about we celebrate with a spring proverb?

一場の春夢 or in hiragana: いちじょうのしゅんむ, or in alphabet: ichijo no shunmu

一場 ichijo literally means “one place” and is a representation of life’s transience. Think of it as something like the “here” in “here and now,” or the “there” in “there and gone.”

の no is a possessive particle that has exactly the same meaning as “’s” – so “one place’s”

春夢 shunmu means “spring dream.”

So, to paraphrase: “A dream in spring, there [and gone],” or perhaps “A dream of spring, there [and gone].” Proverbs are tiny poems, so the exact meaning has some flexibility, but I’m sure you’ll agree it’s a very evocative little saying.

Spring is particularly associated with transience and fleetingness in Japan because its most gorgeous feature, arguably the highlight of the natural year in Japan, is sakura, or cherry blossom. And hardly has sakura blossomed, when it is suddenly all over – the epitome of transience, made all the more evocative by its beauty. And mention fleeting beauty and anyone past his or her prime feels a visceral tug, none more so than the Japanese: a nation of narcissists if ever there was one.

And of course, “dream” is perhaps the most fleeting form of consciousness we know. Like blossom, however luxuriant and vivid it may be when we’re sitting under it laughing and drinking, once it has gone it has quite gone – all too soon, and we are powerless to bring it or even clear memories of it back in the here and now, there and gone.

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