Photo/IllutrationVisitors to Yasakajinja shrine in Tsuwano, Shimane Prefecture, enjoy the autumn colors of the maple trees. (Michio Mizuta)

"Kigo" is a word or expression used in haiku in association with a particular season, but it is not always easy to tell the season it represents.

"Shika" (deer), for instance, is a traditional kigo for autumn because of the plaintive tone of mating calls made by bucks at that time of year.

A haiku by Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) goes to the effect, "Poignant are the deer's long grunts at night." The poem seems to even evoke the chill of autumn winds as well.

I learned recently that "minishimu" is also an autumn kigo. Denoting a deep feeling that is almost physical, this expression can apply to any season. In fact, it was never really meant as an autumn kigo proper, until it gradually became associated with autumn winds.

Seasonal perceptions take a long time to form and become established.

It's early winter now, but I am writing about autumn because the leaves of trees in a park, which I always walk through, have recently turned scarlet at long last.

Autumn foliage appears to be late everywhere this year--by as much as a fortnight past normal in some regions, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency.

Trees such as "kaede" maples start preparing for winter when temperature fluctuations grow. Their leaves were late changing color this year because the weather remained unseasonably mild even after the onset of autumn on the calendar.

Even though it's mid-December, beautiful fall foliage can still be enjoyed in some parts of the nation.

Speaking of "unseasonable," I am seeing fresh "sanma" (saury) in abundance at supermarkets, as if they are in season right now.

It appears that the water temperature in the Pacific Ocean finally dropped, resulting in the increased catch.

The word sanma is written with kanji characters for "autumn," "sword" and "fish." This year, the "autumn" bit feels strange.

Still, society moves according to the calendar. Paging through a collection of haiku by Kinji Fukami, I came across this piece: "The year is nearing the end/ I feel rushed/ as always."

Feeling the usual year-end hustle and bustle, I am also soothed by the temporary break from routine experienced during this season.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 14

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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.