As children, each of us in our own time begins to see letters come together to form words we can understand. For me, the names found in a box of colored pencils were some of the easiest to tackle. While many colors in English seem to be taken from plants, the Japanese versions tend to originate from the four seasons.
Among the colors in that box were, deep chrome yellow,” “ultramarine,” “forest green,” “yellow ocher” and “Mars yellow.” I don’t remember seeing these much in every day life, yet when written in kanji (Chinese characters) the colors seem as plain as day. And for elementary school students unfamiliar with these characters, the box of colored pencils was a fantasy land of new words.
This led to a bit of confusion though. One time I penned a card to go with a towel I bought for an upper-classman who had caught my eye. In the note I wrote, “Here’s an ultramarine towel for you…” Upon reading my first draft, a friend burst out in laughter, suggesting, “’Ultramarine’ is ‘ultra-uncool.’ Why don’t you just say ‘blue?’”
I ended up sticking with “blue,” but somewhere deep inside this experience my affinity for color was reinforced, and it was Mother Nature who finally opened my eyes to the full spectrum of colors. The first green of spring and the rich color of the summer leaves are a true “forest green.”
Other colors came into full view during my travels, particularly in the hues of the ocean. Seeing the ultramarine glint of the sea brought new life to my box of colored pencils.
Until I spent time among Japan’s winter peaks, I never realized how many different types of “white” there are – transparent, ashen and cream-colored, to name a few. As a child growing up in Shizuoka, I would imagine the snow-white peak of Mt. Fuji topped in powdered sugar, and delight in the thought of taking a bite.
Now I often settle for a mouthful of white snow. Enjoy the seasonal colors this autumn.