Just how many seasons does Japan really have?

By Aonghas Crowe

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?”

“Umm. Summer?”

“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 JapanThere 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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© GaijinPot

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It has four. Hot, rainy, freezing, cherry blossoms. Please don’t walk into the minefield of debating with a japanese person over wether or not there’s four...they do not let up

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Most people have been taught that there is 4 seasons.

There are technically 4 recognised seasons on everyones work and school calendars.

Kind of odd to make it a Japanese thing.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

All countries have four seasons marked by Solstices and Equinoxes.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

There’s only 2 seasons here.

Live-able and Death. Right now we are in Death till November.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Good article. In my experience, Japanese will refer to the first warm day after New Year as "spring already", the first cool evening in summer as "autumn already", and the first cold day later in the year as "winter already". But they will not say the first 30C plus day of the year, often around Golden Week at my place, is "summer already". There is also resistance to saying rainy season is summer, and since it's not spring, that logic means Japan cannot have only four seasons. It must have five or more.

For me, rainy season is summer. So is most of September. Many swimming pools close on September 1, but that is just the calendar talking. If we are going to use the calendar, for me, Winter = Dec to Feb, Spring = March & April, Summer = May to Sep, and Autumn = Oct & Nov. That's at 800m asl in the mountains.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

just two : windy days and not windy days (from july to august)

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

More than any other country in the world. Seasons are an almost uniquely Japanese phenomenon.

-6 ( +1 / -7 )

How many seasons Japan has depends on where you are in Japan. There is a difference in seasons between Hokkaido and Okinawa.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Japan is an island nation with FOUR seasons!

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Sometimes I get the question: does your country have four seasons? Of course, the question is ridiculous: ask someone from Maine or Hawaii. But my hometown of Los Angeles has four: fire, flood, drought, and sprinkle.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

The four seasons of Japan:

One month of cold.

One month of jungle heat.

One month of rainy season.

Nine months of road repair.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

The late Roy Andrew Miller, author of The Japanese Language and more than a bit of a curmudgeon, declares (I paraphrase) that Japan has two seasons: unbearably hot and unbearably cold...Amusing but, of course, quite unfair...For northern Europeans, the sun sets a bit too early in summer (I am speaking of the Kanto area), but then it doesn't set so depressingly early in winter. Autumn is a delight...I remember the days before air conditioning--and the magic sound of the wind bell (風鈴).

0 ( +1 / -1 )

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