Chilly on a Sleepless Night

Wednesday, 5 June 2024

The other day I woke up around 2–3 am and couldn’t get back to bed. I know this is a common thing for some folks, but it doesn’t hit me very often. That said, occasionally it will. My mind will instantly flood with thoughts—things I have to do, worries for the future, that kind of thing—and before I know it I’m awake enough that just laying there starts to become uncomfortable and I want to move a little.

Before I got up to take a midnight walk, a haiku popped into my head. hah yes, among the other things that had come in to wake me up, a haiku was one of them. Anyway, after I got up, I went to my desk to write it down.

summer night—
it’s surprisingly chilly
as I lay sleepless

View from Takatsu in Osaka by Kawase Hasui
“View from Takatsu in Osaka” by Kawase Hasui

I suppose it’s not really the real summer yet. It is summer by the traditional Japanese almanac that the haiku world still uses. The old thinking was that each season starts at the midpoint between equinox and solstice, the point where the previous season was at the peak of its strength. The rational for this was that from this point forward more and more of the next season starts to show up, so in that sense it is the beginning of the next one. It’s an interesting way of looking at things.[1]

Anyway, so it is summer by the traditional reckoning (which started on May 5th) but the real summer heat won’t come until after rainy season ends around the end of June. Until then, we’ll still be in the early summer[2] mode of being hot during the day but fairly cool at night. That explains why I was a bit chilly as I laid in bed awake last night. So I suppose it really isn’t that surprising when we consider everything, but still, it is summer and summer carries the image of hot all the time, so when taken against that image it is surprising.

Yes, grammar nerds, lay is transitive (it requires an object), so the correct word to use here is lie, but there is an object suggested here and unspoken (my bed) so in that sense lay is correct. It sounds better, anyway.

Buy actually, the first version I wrote down was:

three am
it’s surprisingly chilly
as I lie awake

Using the correct verb there. But I decided to replace “three am” with the season so that we could understand why being chilly is surprising. I don’t always follow the season word requirement of traditional haiku, but in this case it seems to need more context. Without the time in the first line, I now have to specify why being awake is a big deal, so adding “sleepless” and suggesting “in bed” by using lay instead of lie.

At any rate, after writing that haiku, I took a short walk outside, then read a little, then went back to bed. Many people who study this sort of thing have in recent years suggested that before the electric light, most people slept in two separate phases with an awake period of an hour or two in the middle (usually called biphasic sleep). On the rare times when I do have these sleepless periods at night, I’m reminded of that.

  1. I haven’t written any posts directly about this traditional system yet (called 二十四節気) but I have referred to it a few times in my Today in Japan posts. Go look!  ↩

  2. Or later spring, by the modern way of looking at things.  ↩

Published by David

Watching the world drift by, learning as I go, lost in Japan

If you enjoyed this article or photo, please consider supporting me on Ko-fi. Support from people like you is what helps me afford the time to keep doing articles like this one. You can read more here.