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February 19 – 雨水 Usui

Welcome to the series of posts made in collaboration with Kintoki sweets and ITSUMO Life exploring Japanese culture and seasonal observations.

Today is the start of Usui 雨水 the 2nd micro season in the 二十四節季 24 Sekki solar calendar. Its literal translation of “rain water” refers to the weather warming up and the snow giving way to rains.

With the warming weather a little olive colored songbird called an 鶯 uguisu will change its usual quiet chatter with a surprisingly grandiose “ho-hokekyo” call. Much like how western countries associate robins with spring, the call of an uguisu is associated with the arrival of warmer weather and the little bird has an affectionate nickname of 春告鳥(haru-tsuge-dori) or a bird that announces spring.

This little wagashi models its cute shape to this songbird and is called an uguisu mochi. Filled with sweet bean paste, they are only served during spring when these birds hold their spring choirs. Usually dusted with a toasted green soybean powder to give it an olive coloring we added a little bit of matcha powder to our mix to give it a brilliant spring green to contrast with the clean white, reminiscent of fresh snow, of the natural shino glaze on these 伊賀焼, Iga-ware plates.

Japan is known to keep traditions continually alive for a long time, like the skills of making these Iga pottery dating back to the Nara period (710-794) or keeping official records of seasonal changes through observation of first birdsongs and the blossoming of flowers. Some of this data dating back to the 9th century is so accurately kept that it is used in contemporary scientific research!

"Phenological data series of cherry tree flowering in Kyoto, Japan"

There is something so grounding when you realise we appreciate and value the same things as the people who came before us, like the anticipation of spring songbird calls or the wabi-sabi beauty found in the imperfection of Japanese pottery.

We love finding little connection like these into the past and hope to support these traditions going into the future.

Until our next exploration,
ITSUMO & Kintoki Sweets

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