Micro-Season: “The Tachibana First Turns Yellow”

We have entered the micro-season of “The Tachibana First Turns Yellow”.  This is the third micro-season of the mini-season Minor Snow.  All the micro-seasons within Minor Snow are:

  • The Rainbow Hides Unseen (Nov 23 – Nov 27)
  • The North Wind Brushes the Leaves (Nov 28 – Dec 01)
  • The Tachibana First Turns Yellow (Dec 02 – Dec 06)

These seasons were established in 1685 by Japanese astronomer Shibuka Shunkai and are specific to Japan. However, just because the calendar focuses on Japan doesn’t mean it isn’t applicable to others.  No matter where you live you can use these seasons as a starting point for your personal exploration of the world around you. 

To celebrate this season, we will learn about Citrus tachibana and then read citrus-themed poems by Basho, Issa, Fay Aoyagi, and Emperor Genshō.


Tachibana

The term Tachibana has several possible meanings and has been used in many different contexts. For example, Tachibana could refer to a clan of court nobles prominent in the Nara and Heian periods (710–1185), or a clan of samurai prominent in the Muromachi, Sengoku, and Edo periods (1333–1868).  Tachibana is also a train station in Hyogo Prefecture and the name of a few warships in the Imperial Japanese Navy.(1) However, for this micro-season, the “Tachibana” we are referring to is the citrus fruit.

The authors of the 72-Season app tell us that Tachibana is a generic term that refers to several varieties of citrus fruit.  The word tachibana is derived from Tajimamori, a legendary character who procured the “tokijiju no kaku no knomi” (endless fragrant fruit).(2) 

Citrus tachibana

The Tachibana orange (Citrus tachibana) is a variety of wild mandarin orange native to Japan.  This citrus species has been identified as an endangered species by Japan’s Ministry of the Environment and has been placed on the Global Red List of Japanese Threatened Plants. (4,5) Tokyo-based writer Leow Florentyna describes the tachibana this way,

“Scratch the peel of one of those tiny fruits, and you’ll release a remarkably powerful fragrance, full of zesty, spicy, bitter notes, a dozen citruses distilled into a single whiff. Its flesh is an electric burst of tart and bitter flavors, far more intense than a lemon or grapefruit, followed by a barely detectable undertone of sweetness.”(4)

Florentyna continues by stating,

“During the Heian period (794–1185), women within the Japanese aristocracy perfumed themselves with tachibana, tucking sachets of its blossoms into their kimono sleeves or threading the fruits on cords and wearing them like bangles.”

While the tachibana fragrance is captivating, it is a bitter fruit. As a result, its gastronomical applications have been somewhat limited.  However, in the past several years there has been an increased interest in finding culinary applications for the fruit.  Some applications include teas, gins, and Double Gold Award-winning marmalade.(3)


Seasonal Poems 

The World Kigo Database does not have an independent listing for tachibana.  But there is a listing for citrus fruits or kankitsurui.  There is also a sub-listing for mikan, or mandarin orange, which the Citrus tachibana is a variety.  Dr. Greve explains that citrus fruit blossoms are a summer kigo, whereas the actual fruits are autumn or winter kigo.(6) The association between the orange fruit and winter is not limited to Japan, it also extends to other countries such as the United States, Turkey,  and Kenya.

With all this in mind, let’s see what poetry we can find.

Basho

fragrant orange-
when? In what field?
cuckoo. 
(translated by David Landis Barnhill) 

Dr. Greve writes about this poem “The fragrant tachibana are associated with the fourth lunar month, while the lesser cuckoo belongs to the fifth lunar month of old waka poetry.”(6) The fourth lunar month would be around May in the Gregorian calendar.  

grandfather and parents 
the prosperity of grandchildren 
in persimmons and oranges 
(translated by Jane Reichhold)
Suruga road– 
even the orange blossoms have
the aroma of tea leaves 
(translated by Haruo Shirane) 

Issa

a five or six inch
red mandarin orange...
winter moon
(translated by David G. Lanoue)
looking, looking
at the mandarin orange...
year's first calligraphy
(translated by David G. Lanoue)

Fay Aoyagi

tiny sour oranges--
a kabuki actor
with bleached hair
(Retrieved from “Oranges” Sajiki for Kenya and Tropical Regions)

Emperor Genshō

O, orange tree:
Fruit and flowers both,
And leaves, too,
Even should frost fall on your branches
Evegreen will you be!

The above poem is part of the Man’yōshū.  The Man’yōshū, or Collection of a Myriad Leaves, contains over 4,500 poems collected during the Nara period (710-794).(8) The Man’yōshū is said to contain about 70 poems referencing tachibana. (4)

A Haiku Invitation

This week’s haiku invitation is to write a haiku or senryu that references citrus fruits.

See if you can place the citrus fruit in winter. There is an immediate contrast available between the brightness of the citrus and then the cold darkness of the winter landscape. Have fun with it!

Share your haiku in the comments below, or post on your own page and link back to this post. I can’t wait to read what you write! 


Resources:

  1. “Tachibana”; Wikipedia
  2. “The Tachibana First Turns Yellow”; 72-season app
  3. “Tachibana orange”; Wikipedia
  4. Leow, Florentyna: “The Quest to Reacquaint Japan With Its Forgotten Native Citrus”: Altas Obscura
  5. Leow, Florentyna: “Resurrecting the tachibana, Japan’s oldest native citrus” The Japan Times
  6. Kankitsurui; World Kigo Database
  7. “Tachibana”; Haiku and Happiness
  8. Oranges; Saijiki for Kenya and Tropical Regions
  9. “Man’yōshū”; Wikipedia

Basho haiku were retrieved from “Matsuo Bashō’s haiku poems in romanized Japanese with English translations” with editor Gábor Terebess. Issa haiku were retrieved from David G. Lanoue’s Haiku Guy. Fay Aoyagi haiku was retrieved from Oranges; Saijiki for Kenya and Tropical Regions.  Emperor Genshō’s poem was retrieved from wakapoetry.net

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39 thoughts on “Micro-Season: “The Tachibana First Turns Yellow”

Add yours

  1. Thanks Mark for another wonderful informative post. A really challenging invitation this week with December’s morning heavy frost clinging to the windowsills. Have a great day My Friend.

    1. Hi Goff, Yes! It was a cold one this morning. A dusting of new snow yesterday for us. The only citrus fruits I can find are in holiday fruit baskets!

    1. Hi Goff, Great job with this one. It isn’t easy to put citrus fruits in winter for those of us who live in the northern parts of the United States!

  2. Oddly enough I wrote this poem (with photo) just a few days ago:

    turns out those
    lemons were oranges
    neighborhood watch

      1. It’s way too easy to do in Southern CA!

        I felt quite foolish because I wrote a lemon haiku about that tree about a week before I realized my error. This poem was way better though. Heh.

      2. Yes, I did put it on Twitter with an actual photo of the tree in my neighborhood. So glad you liked it.

    1. Hi Eavonka, I really like this one! I like the neighborhood watch fragment. It kind of reminds me of my mother who likes to call me give me reports about what the neighbors are doing. Thanks so much for sharing this!

    2. I think it’s really easy to do that, Eavonka. At least for me as once I get to thinking about an idea for a haiku, I tend to write several iterations of the same or similar haiku (as I did with mine). Maybe you are just celebrating the Tachibana micro-season. ~nan

    1. Hi Tracy, I don’t think I have ever had that happen to me before. What a bummer! It probably better than forgotten asparagus. That just makes a mess. Have a great weekend!

    1. Hi Nancy, Oh the memories with these! I used to get oranges and apples in my stocking. I haven’t thought about that for years! Thanks so much for writing and sharing.

      1. Yes, we got oranges in our stockings every year. I grew up in New Mexico where fresh oranges were much harder to come by. 😅

  3. (Rainbow hides unseen is such a great microseason!)

    I had a poem for the fruit kigo in Poets Espresso recently…<3

    tachibana orange
    confirmed bachelor
    all set, good to go

    (they reproduce asexually by apomixis✨)

    1. Hi Jerome,
      Awesome! Why I am not really surprised that you already had a haiku that mentioned the Tachibana orange! Thanks for sharing your work and adding that tidbit of information about orange reproduction. Have a great week.

  4. Tis the seasosn to get behind… rathter too quickly.
    I offer these two haiku;

    Chanukah
    oranges, raisins –
    charity

    bright candles only
    for eight nights – the fruit is in
    the jelly doughnuts

    © JP/dh – Jules

    (Chaunkah only became more of a gift giving holiday to compete with other December holidays. Traditionally fruit and nuts were pretty much it – However coming from an interfaith family – And ‘coming to America’ traditions change. Best to all this season and all throughout the new year. Jelly donuts are called sufganiyot)

    1. Hi Jules, wonderful work! Thank you for the information about the Chanukah.
      –And the fruit in jelly doughnuts is the best kind of fruit!
      Thanks for adding to the discussion. Have a great weekend!

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