It can be quite difficult to describe what urizun actually means. It’s the weather that comes right after winter, when moisture fills the air and covers the ground, letting us know the warm season has arrived. In that sense it’s easy to call it spring, but the mood is different to spring in mainland Japan. The term urizun is said to have come from uruoi-zome, meaning “the first arrival of moisture.” As Okinawa is located far south of the mainland, the winter can be quite cold, albeit much warmer than Tokyo. For reference, the average minimum temperature in January is 4.1°C in Tokyo and 14.0°C in Naha. The cold weather around the winter solstice is called twunji-bisa, and the coldness around December 8 of the lunar calendar, when people prepare and eat muchi (steamed mochi, wrapped in shell ginger leaf), is called muchi-bisa. The time of urizun comes soon after the New Year, around February and March of the lunar calendar. The dates of the lunar calendar progress slower than the solar calendar, so the feeling of the season may be a bit different from that of today, but it’s said to be felt most vividly around hamaori (an event to purify and protect oneself from evil spirits, which takes place on the beach)1.
The change of weather can be hard for tourists to sense. To feel urizun, one must stay in Okinawa for some time from the start of the lunar New Year onwards. Okinawa experiences its own winter. The trees and plants that have been huddled up in the cold air start to deepen their colors and straighten themselves up as they receive the southern winds. The ears of wheat sprout and young rice plants also start to grow. When I visited the beach around the time of hamaori, local people told me it was the time of urizun. Yet it just so happened to be a cold day, so unfortunately I didn’t feel it whatsoever.
The word used in contrast to urizun is wakanatsu (young summer). It represents the time that comes right after urizun, around April and May of the lunar calendar, meaning it’s almost the beginning of the rainy season2. It’s such a beautiful word. In songs they are used for comparisons, such as in “Urizumi-goeya,” where the lyrics go: “first strings woven from rammies in urizumi / silky strings woven in wakanatsu…” In recent years, everyone uses these lyrical words for promotional or commercial purposes. In Okinawa, urizun, as well as kariyushi, have become trending words. It’s rather disappointing to see these words being used carelessly, especially when people don’t feel them in real life.
- Held on March 3rd of the lunar calendar.
- The rainy season comes around June~July, however in Okinawa, it usually comes around May~June.