Whenever I ask any of my Japanese friends how many seasons there are in this country, they invariably tell me four. Shiki (四季), the four seasons, are magical aspects of Japan that you won’t quite experience anywhere else—or so they would like you to believe, but I don’t buy it.
Unpleasant and pleasant
Every time I bring it up, the conversation goes like this:
“What about tsuyu (梅雨), the rainy season,” I ask. “What’s that?”
“Summer, huh? You know, I find tsuyu to be so uniquely different that it deserves to be called a season all by itself.”
“Okay, smart aleck, there are five seasons then.”
“Well, then how about all the sekki (節気), or the 24 terms in the traditional lunisolar calendar?”
Sekki is the traditional way of expressing seasons in Japan. There are 24 sekki, including rikka (立夏, the first day of summer) in early May, shoman (小満, lit. “a little full” as in growing, waxing) in late May and boshu (芒種, lit. bearded grain) in early June.
The 24 sekki can be further divided into three for a total of 72 shijijūni ko (七十二侯) that last for about five days each. These subseasons include mugi no toki itaru (麦秋至), or “the time for wheat has come,” which lasts from May 31 to June 5, and kamakiri shozu (“the mantis is born”) from June 6 to June 10.
“You’re confusing me, gaijin-san.”
“I’ll simplify it for you, then. I think there are only two seasons: unpleasant and pleasant.” Or, as a friend once commented accurately: livable and utterly unlivable.
Climatic heaven and hell
It’s during the “pleasant season” that all is forgiven. When April or May come around, a parade of different flowers blooms each week: sakura, azalea, wisteria and iris.
The days so sunny and warm, you can forget that only a few months ago, your teeth were chattering as you sat in your home or office, unable to think about anything but the persistent cold that had seeped into your bones.
Ah, if only it were like this all year long, you sigh. But you know it won’t last because the rainy season—cloudy skies, torrential rainfall and unflagging humidity—is lurking just around the corner like the class bully waiting to pounce. And sometimes it comes earlier than usual.
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