Another similar example is 麦雨 bakū. In actuality meaning rainfall during May, if translated literally the two characters in bakū mean “wheat rain.”
This is because the etymology of the word is “rain during the wheat harvest,” which traditionally begins in May in Japan. However, just as with the terms for post-drought rain above, bakū is subtly different from 五月雨 samidare, which literally means “May rain”, but doesn’t carry the agricultural connotations of bakū.
But Japanese rain words aren’t just for talking about the countryside. In a traditional formal Japanese letter, it’s still common practice to begin with 季語 kigo, words which remark on the time of year.
Because many such kigo mention rain, a translator who understands Japanese rain words can make a foreign message feel like a letter from an old friend.
Perhaps the most essential of these words is 梅雨 tsuyu. Literally reading as “plum rain”, tsuyu actually refers to Japan’s rainy season in June and July – the time of year when Japanese plums typically ripen – and is a commonly used kigo for letters written in those months.
One such letter template from the Japanese stationery company Midori reads梅雨明けが待ち遠しいこの頃ですが… tsuyuake ga machidōshi kono goro desuga or “I am looking forward to the end of the rainy season.” Translations using such words come across as more culturally aware.
But rain words can also impart a sense of place as well as a sense of time. 青葉雨 aoba ame and 雪解雨 yukigeame can both be correctly translated as “spring rain,” but this translation loses geographical nuances.
While a translator would be correct to talk about aoba ame, or “green leaf rain” in a text targeted at readers in southern Japan in springtime, yukiegeame, or “snow-melting rains” would probably be a better fit for an audience in Japan’s snowier north.