First Water (wakamizu)


First drawing of Well Water (wakamizu)

***** Location: Japan
***** Season: New Year
***** Category: Observance


"Young Water", wakamizu 若水
drawing the first water of the year at the double-hour of the tiger (tora no koku 寅の刻, from four to six in the morning) . This water was supposed to bring health and wellbeing to the people who drink it. It is also renown for bringing back youth to the people ("young water" waka mizu).

The water is drawn only by choosen "men of the year" (toshi otoko 年男, but referring either to the "man of the house" or to men who are born in the animal sign of the coming year) which are thought of as having special heavenly power with them. This ceremony is the very first male activity of the New Year. Women had to stay away from the well.
Is some parts of Shikoku island, however, it is the lady of the house who fetches the first water.

From simple farmers to temple priest to tea ceremony masters, all took this custom very seriously. The well where this water was drawn is usually decorated with New Year decorations.

Well water as a source for drinking water was most important during all times, until the arrival of modern tab water! When we moved to our farm house, we had only well water for about six months, which makes you well aware of the importance of this commodity. The god of water (suijin 水神) was venerated everywhere.
In our neighbourhood it can still happen that you are invited to a cup of tea from the first water at six in the morning, to participate of the good luck for the area.
Food cooked later with this water is eaten later, mostly the famous "New Year Soup", zooni 雑煮.

..... first water, hatsumizu 初水
..... first water, ichiban mizu 一番水
..... first drawn well water, seikasui せいかすい、井華水

..... first well, waka-i 若井
..... meeting the first water, wakamizu-mukae 若水迎
..... drawing the first water, wakamizu kumi 若水汲み

blessed water, fukumizu 福水
New Year's Tea, Good Luck Tea (fukucha) 

bucket for drawing the first water, wakamizu oke 若水桶
usually the bucket too is decoraded with auspicious symbols.


Drawing the first Water, O-Mizutori, Omizutori, お水取り
Ceremony at the temple Nigatsu-Do  

Kigo related to this ceremony can be placed in the New Year season or in mid-spring.


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First Water
Keishu Takeuchi 1861-1942 - 武内桂舟

Worldwide use

Things found on the way

New Year decoration on the well - rural Japan


Issa and his haiku about the "first water"

wakamizu ya souto tsukikomu ume no hana

into the year's first
water softly...
plum blossoms

wakamizu no yoshi naki hito ni kumare keri

New Year's water--
an unfortunate soul
ladles it

Originally I translated yoshi naki hito as "an unlucky soul." Shinji Ogawa suggests that yoshi in this context could mean "reason," not "luck." The expression might signify that a person with no reason to do so is ladling the New Year's water. Masafumi Kobayashi, in Issa to onnatachi ("Issa and Women"), has a different theory. He writes that yoshi naki hito refers to an unfortunate soul: a prostitute who, when she was alive, ladled the water at a certain well. "I don't know why she died, but it's surely a sad story," he adds (Tokyo: Sanwa 2004) 42-43.

cha keburi ya waga wakamizu mo sumida-gawa

tea smoke--
my year's first water
from Sumida River

myôdai ni wakamizu abiru suzume kana

bathing in the
New Year's water...
my proxy the sparrow

yoku-doshiku wakamizu tsukau onna kana

greedily using up
the year's first water...
the woman

Haiga by Nakamura Sakuo

Yokudoshi is an old word that means "to be greedy"; see Kogo dai jiten (Shogakukan 1983) 1704. Is this haiku a gentle slap at Issa's wife, Kiku?
Age 56, Fifth Month, 4th day, the first daughter, Sato, is born. On New year his wife is pregnant with fifth month baby.

wakamizu ya narabu suzume mo mamena kao

year's first water--
sparrows in a row
with healthy faces

wakamizu ya mazu wa hotoke no shikimi oke

year's first water--
the first goes to Buddha's
bucket of branches

A temple scene. The stone Buddha's bucket is filled with sacred shikimi (star-aniseed) branches that are placed on Buddhist graves.

myôdai ni wakamizu abiru karasu kana

bathing in the
New Year's water...
my proxy the crow

san mon ga wakamizu amaru iori kana

three pennies of New Year's
water is enough...
my little hut

hito oke o wakamizu waka yu waka cha kana

from one bucket
the year's first cold water
first hot water, first tea

wakamizu ya wara ga uite mo fuku to iu

year's first water--
even a floating straw
they call "lucky!"

Shinji Ogawa comments, "The straw is rather unimportant here. The humor of this haiku is the people's psyche: that no matter what is floating, they call it a lucky omen."

chisai ko ya wakamizu kumi mo nambanme

little child
draws the year's first water...
again and again!

mezamashi ni wakamizu miru ya sumida-gawa

the year's first water
looks wonderful!
Sumida River

wakamizu ya dobin hitotsu ni sumida-gawa

the year's first water
in an earthen teapot...
Sumida River

Tr. David Lanoue 


wakamizu ya hito no koe suru kaki no yami

first water -
the hedge in the dark sounds
like a man's voice

. Murou Saisei 室生犀星  





© 現代俳句データベース- 


Related words

***** WKD: Ceremonies of Japan Nihon no Gyooji 日本の行事

***** Suijin, the God of Water 水神 Mizu no Kamisama

WATER and related KIGO




Unknown said...

Issa の句も、若水が沢山ありますね。





Anonymous said...

old well ...
drawing the first water
the full moon

Ella Wagemakers
*who'll be operated on tomorrow...

Gabi Greve - Edopedia said...

wakamizu o jinushi no ato de ooya kumi

after the land owner
the caretaker goes
to draw first water

The First Lunar Month 一月 ichigatsu - 睦月 mutsuki -
in Edo

Gabi Greve - Kappa said...

wakamizu o atama ni hakobu kappa kana

五島高資 Goto Takashi

- - - - - translated versions by Gabi Greve

a kappa
carries his water of life
on his head . . .

I often use . . . at the end to show there is KANA in Japanese.
Somehow I feel this should be in plural in English . .
all Kappa
carry the water of life
on their heads
MORE about the water goblin Kappa

Gabi Greve said...

Legend from Ehime
南宇和郡 Minami-Uwa district 愛南町 Ainan town

Before drawing wakamizu 若水 the first water of the year, people light the water surface with taimatsu 松明 a torch.
In former times they could see Fuku no Kami in the water.
more than 50 to collect

Gabi Greve said...

Legend from Fukushima 須賀川市 Sukagawa city
O-Shogatsu Sama お正月様 is a woman. Since she did not marry, she is happy if young men come to get wakamizu 若水 the first water of the year.