In Japanese, "shito shito" is an onomatopoeia for gently falling rain, and "byu byu" is for gusting winds. What is the correct equivalent for falling snow? Is it "shin shin" or “kon kon"?

The latter has the support of people who point out the line, "yuki ya kon kon," in a traditional children's song.

However, there apparently are diverse theories on the meaning of "kon kon" in this particular song.

In his book on Japanese songs, Isao Wakai, a scholar of Japanese linguistics, argues against considering "kon kon" as an onomatopoeia. He points out that since the "ya" in "yuki ya" makes this a vocative expression, the "kon kon" that follows should be interpreted as a command or request--"komu komu" (come, come).

Actually, understanding this line to mean "Oh snow, come, come" seems to better fit the sentiments of children frolicking in the snow, making a snowman and having a snowball fight.

As a child, I was absolutely elated when it snowed. But as I grew into an adult, I began to think of snow as a big nuisance. I suppose this couldn't be helped.

Heavy snow blanketed the Kanto region on Jan. 22. For the first time in four years, the Japan Meteorological Agency issued a heavy snow warning for Tokyo’s 23 wards. I imagine many people went home earlier than usual.

Some senior high schools, which are holding entrance exams on Jan. 23, are reportedly delaying the tests' starting time.

Along the Sea of Japan coast, where record snowfalls have been marked already, reports have been coming in of people struggling with snow removal.

According to a book I consulted, new snow is light and fluffy because there is a lot of air between snow crystals. When the crystals disintegrate, the snowflakes become heavier. In Japanese, such snow is called "shimari yuki" (packed snow).

And as the snowflakes repeatedly undergo the melting and re-freezing processes, they grow much heavier--called "zarame yuki" (coarse-grained snow).

When the weather gets warmer, the snow that falls then will be called "nagori yuki" (lingering snow). It'll still be a while before we get there.

But even for pragmatic adults, there are moments when the dazzling whiteness of a snow-covered expanse captures our hearts, even amid cluttered homes and tall buildings in the big cities--a far cry from the scene depicted in the "Yuki ya kon kon" song that goes, "The mountains and the fields are wearing a cottony hat."

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 23

* * *

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.