Beautiful Blues Mash
The third Monday of January is designated Blue Monday, a day set aside as the most down-in-the-dumps day of the year. Originally a noughties marketing stunt designed complete with a clever equation, the travel company’s Blue Monday is without any actual scientific evidence. And yet Blue Monday still prevails –
Maybe because blue is a beautiful color, so beautiful in fact, that the word, blue, covers the entire spectrum of blue and green in the Japanese language. The word for green wasn’t introduced into Japanese until the Heian period in Japan (the last bit of classical Japanese history ending in the 12th Century) and the word for blue is still used today in Japanese to mean both blue and green. The indistinction doesn’t mean the Japanese can’t physically see the two colors but rather, that blue is a process of turning green rather than a state - blue is the promise of green. So when someone says, “The traffic light turned blue” in contemporary Japanese, they mean, “The traffic light turned green” in English, but what they really mean is: the light turned blue to signal that you can start to get going.
If blue is the color of a start, it’s also the color of immaturity. In Japanese, the expression that someone has a blue butt profiles an adult’s inexperience (like the word, green in English), rather than their race, as misidentified by a German anthropologist in the late 19th Century who labeled the color splash that appears across some babies’ bottoms in the first couple of years of their lives, Mongolian Spot. Although this name is sadly still casually used, the current name for Mongolian Spot is slate gray nevus. A more accurate color depiction and a cultural step-up from its former misnomer, I still like the Japanese sense of blue butt as an expression of turning, in this case, into a little human being.
I always used to think that my name, Haru, written as a composite character of sun and blue and read as sunny meant blue sun. But now in my second cycle of the lunisolar calendar, I think blue sun might actually mean the beginning of turning sunny, the immature part of sunny that geeks out linguistics on a forthcoming Blue Monday.
Happy Blue Monday, everyone. Revel in your starts and cry out your beautiful blues. Meanwhile, happy MLK Day this Monday, too, the important and incredibly hard-won US federal holiday that marks Martin Luther King Jr.’s efforts in the civil rights movement that started to set right legalized discrimination. Happy anniversary Dr. King!
*Photo of blue stage set at Charing Cross Theatre: George Takei's Allegiance