Photo/IllutrationThe Asahi Shimbun

The Japanese hiragana character “hi” looks like an upside-down Greek letter “omega” in uppercase.

On the latest analysis diagram of the meandering of the Kuroshio current, issued daily by the Japan Meteorological Agency, I see a huge “hi” on the south coast of the Japanese main island of Honshu.

Normally, the current runs northeast in a straight line along Japan’s Pacific coast. But this year, it veered south off the Kii Peninsula, and then did a U-turn as it approached the Boso Peninsula, thus tracing a course that looks like a giant “hi.”

How does this unusual phenomenon affect Japan?

Last week, I visited the Shizuoka Prefecture fishing port of Mochimune in Suruga Bay, from where the Kuroshio has strayed far off.

“This is a horrible year,” lamented Masakazu Saito, 62, who heads the prefecture’s “shirasu” (whitebait) seine fishery cooperative. “We sent a fleet out this morning, but there was not a blip on the fish-finder radar. The fleet returned to the port without casting the net.”

A 44-year veteran shirasu fisherman, Saito sighed in resignation.

The Kuroshio’s “great meander” was confirmed by the meteorological agency in late September, but fishermen were already aware of various abnormalities in August.

In any normal year, there is a period when south winds blowing offshore turn the surface of the sea green. But this year, north winds blew down from Mount Fuji, and the color of the sea was pale.

“This was an ominous sign,” Saito noted. “We were all worried that we would have a very bad autumn.”

Restaurants and seafood stores in Mochimune displayed signboards saying, “No fresh shirasu today.” At another fishing port, this year’s shirasu festival had to be canceled. Shirasu fishermen in neighboring Aichi Prefecture are also experiencing low catches.

The Kuroshio goes by different names in different regions. In western Japan, it is called Mashio or Honjio or Hinomotoshio. Around Izu, it is called Otoshio, and Kikyomizu in the Tohoku region.

All these names are suggestive of the reverence in which fishermen have always held for this bountiful current that has enriched the nation from ancient times.

As I reviewed the meteorological agency’s analysis diagrams for the last month or so, I could see that the character “hi” has frequently taken different shapes, becoming elongated or wider.

I wished I could just grab and pull the two sides and reshape the “hi” into the straight line it’s supposed to be.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 4

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.