Saturday, 14 January 2012

November: Frost Month

November is known as the ‘Yanagi’ (Willow), or ‘Ame’ (Rain) suit. The Willow tree is a symbol of grace and strength. In China and Japan, the Willow symbolises the traits of an ideal woman and Geisha are often compared to the Willow. The ‘Tsubame’ (Swallow) is often shown with the Willow. They are seen as good companions and are symbols of happiness and harmony. Swallows are often associated with spring, but there are species that migrate to spend the winter in Japan.

The other notable figure in the November suit is the man with an umbrella. This man is the famous Heian period calligrapher Ono no Toufuu (Ono no Michikaze is the more formal reading of his name). He is credited with creating a Japanese style of writing Chinese characters. Calligraphy in this case is more than just fancy writing. It was very important to have standard ways of writing, especially when using a writing system as complicated as Chinese. A popular story arose in the Edo period about how he was feeling particularly hopeless one rainy day and considered quitting his study of calligraphy. He stopped by a stream near a Willow tree and saw a small Frog trying to leap to a dangling Willow branch. He watched the Frog leap for the branch, but every time the wind would blow it just out of reach. Finally on the eighth attempt, the Frog clung to the branch.  Ono no Tofu was inspired by the perseverance of the Frog, and continued his career to become one of the most famous calligraphers in Japan. There are doubts that the story is true, but it is an inspiring tale nonetheless.

The ‘Gaji’ (Lightning) card depicts the strong storms around this time of year. Typhoons usually arrive in Japan from September until November. The largest storms occur toward the end of the year. The Gaji card is filled with lightning and rain. The black and red form the outline of a tornado, or waterspout. Traditionally on the bottom is a large drum symbolising thunder.


  1. Design Notes:
    The designs reflect a more traditional look but this set remains close to my heart as November is my birth month.
    First up the Gaji (storm) card. This pretty much follows the usual abstract pattern that symbolises a funnel of a tornado and the colours of black and red are synonymous with anarchy and danger. Here I've used patterned lines to represent both rain and the 'twists' of a tornado. The black areas represent dark storm clouds and I've added lightning bolts to these areas to make the look of the card more interesting.
    The other cards follow a general pattern and colour scheme. The dark grey backgrounds represent rain clouds, whilst the line patterns rain and the black 'blobs' symbolise the willow tree.
    Due to MS Excels limited graphic capabilities I decided to show the 'Rain man' with his back towards the viewer with his umbrella in full view. In the bottom right corner sits a depressed and worried looking frog. He is obviously shown here before he makes his successful eighth attempt in grabbing on to a willow branch.

  2. An eight pointed star appears in the stream in the bottom left corner to denote that the card is a 'Bright'. This of course is not a Japanese tradition but a Korean one. The star was chosen as obviously a star in real life is 'bright' and eight is considered a lucky number in Japan. The eight spokes of the umbrella mirror this nicely as well. The frog is orange as it recalls one of my favourite t-shirts in my teens which was a Benetton one featuring a fictious basketball team called the 'orange tree frogs'.