I always thought that Japan has four seasons, or maybe five, if we count the rainy one. It was just recently that I discovered it was not entirely true. Based on the old Japanese calendar, a year has no more and no less but 72 seasons in total!
The calendar divides a year into 24 major seasons, running from early February, with the first one known as “Risshun” or “Beginning of spring” until January and the last one that is called “Daikan” or “Greater cold”. Each of the 24 seasons is further divided into 3 smaller micro-seasons (called “ko”), each having its poetic name and lasting approximately 5 days. To give you an example, such micro-seasons can be named: “caterpillars become butterflies”, “first rainbows”, “rotten grass becomes fireflies”, “salmons gather and swim upstream” and so on. The sequence of these micro-seasons captures the change of the natural word in Japan during the year. Go on a trip abroad and you may easily miss a season or two.
Such calendar was first borrowed from China, but given differences in climate and nature conditions, was adapted to Japan in 1685 by the court astronomer Shibukawa Shunkai.
Currently we are at season 54, when “The Maple and the Ivy Turn Yellow”, the last one in autumn series.
Each of the 72 seasons has its dedicated haiku poem, a seasonal fish (or two), also a seasonal vegetable, fruit or flower, and a seasonal highlight or event. While it may not be possible to remember all these details, nowadays, there are smartphone applications (available in English, just check for 72 seasons), allowing an easy access to seasonal information to anyone interested.
The next season will mark “the beginning of winter”, even though the autumn is just coming to city spaces and parks.
“Turning off the lantern,
the winter draws
near to my face”