Seasons Change Fast in Japan

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Now the Japanese tend to like to make a big deal about how the Japanese archipelago has 4 distinct seasons, almost as if they seriously believe that this is an attribute unique to their country (to be honest though the day I do come across someone who beloved this I shan’t be surprised).

Anyhow what I want to talk about today is just how rapidly these very distinct seasons suddenly come about. Having been living in Japan for what is coming up on a year now I have seen each if the 4 seasons come about.
When winter arrived it was more or less a slap in the face to the unprepared Australian, it wasn’t that it was just unbaringly cold for someone who had never seen snow before but more so its rapid onset.

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Thank god winter is behind us for another 9 months but what I’m really amazed with is just how fast it seemed to disappear. Above is the weather forecast for Kobe this week, strangely quite comfortable, the odd thing is that 2 weeks ago the average was little more than 0-4 degrees. That’s an average jump of 10 whole degrees in 2 weeks! It’s like there are little men in the clouds who be like ‘oh shit son Feburary is over, switch out the snow and fill up the weather bukake machine with Sakura!’.
Anyone else from other parts of the world experience seasons changing so abruptly? Back home in Melbourne we don’t really have well defined seasons, they all kinda bleed into eachother on top of that you can have freezing days in hummer and warm ones in winter…..

Anyhow things are looking up in my little corner of the world. I leave you with imminent Ned….. On vacation it seems.

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Winter is Coming 冬が来てるよ

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WINTER IS COMING! Or as we say in Japanese 冬が来てるよ (fuyu ga kiteruyo).

So fuyu 冬 (winter) is almost upon us in the land of the riding sun….. that said recently there has been many days recently where the sun has barely peaked through the foreboding storm clouds!

Now I hail from a generally warm country with the seasons having a more or less mild temperament. Which is precisely why it has come as such a shock at just how cold it has become, today I have come to work with no less than 7 layers and even after covering myself in half a dozen kairo カイロ (chemical heat packs) I’m still shivering!

These bad boys are called カイロ (kairo), when exposed to air the iron inside them oxidises creating an exothermic reaction that heat up the pack to about 50-60 degrees Celsius for up to 24 hours depending on the brand and type.

I swear the Japanese do not feel the cold, for some reason the concept of heating a space as opposed to having a small stove producing radiant heat is incompatible with the Japanese brain! The only place your likely to find central heating in Japan is in large department stores, hotels and western style buildings.

Each day I pack on enough clothes to make it look as though I have gained 20kg or so overnight, the most remarkable thing is often I see my elementary students who are just fine wearing shorts and a light sweater whilst meanwhile the cold is bringing me to tears…… Lets just say if nuclear winter ever comes around and ‘The Free People’s of Danieltopia’ (my imaginary future civilization) are ever at ends with the Japanese, as their charismatic leader I’m going to surrender on the spot and save ourselves the frostbite.

20121128-午後035601.jpg Seriously though if buildings were heated in such a way back home teachers would be striking, parents suing the pants off the school for child abuse and negligence. Whilst the poor kids were having exam week they felt the need to keep all the windows open on the 4th floor while its only a few degrees outside! I presume much like myself the only way the students make it through the day is by keeping a couple kairo in their pockets.

The typical device for heating at the school called a sekiyu 石油 (kerosene) stove, insanely inefficient at heating any real space it does provide a nice moment of warmth when one crouches down next to it.

On the note of retarded Japanese rules, one that is followed here very strictly is that the heaters which are used to heat the classrooms and staffroom at school may not be turned on until winter……… no not when its freezing, but literally the 1st of December. When I have questioned why such a practice is carried out when it is clearly causing much distress amongst students and teachers alike the only response I ever seem to get is ‘This is Japanese Culture’……… um excuse me, how the fuck is being unnecessarily cold ‘culture’, seriously chadou 茶道 (tea ceremony) is culture, onsen 温泉 (hot spring bathing) is culture, matsuri 祭り (Japanese festivals) are culture, not turning the heating on until a certain date is madness!

I came across similar issues when I questioned why I couldn’t wear gloves at school, nor a beanie, nor a neck warmer…….. always the same ‘this is Japanese culture’, i really feel like Japanese people use this much to often as a scapegoat when asked a question they don’t want to answer to the point where it looses its meaning.

I really did attempt to explain the correlation between loss of productivity and being forced to work in an environment a few degrees above zero without much luck and also the fact that as I come from a warm country I am still going through a period of physical acclimatization to the weather here which is far colder and more humid than what I have ever experienced before.

Found unfortunately all but accurate yet humorous description of the workings of a sekiyu heater done by a fellow JET.

OK rant over, the moral of the story, you cant win them all……. however I must also end on a depressing note, being that……..

ITS NOT EVEN WINTER YET BECAUSE

二十四節季 Nijushi Sekki

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This morning I was rudely awoken in the wee hours by whining winds. Grumpily I dragged myself out of bed and looked over to my calendar, glancing the date to be October 23.
A little note Soukou 霜降 sat in the box meaning ‘descent of frost’ thinking of the storm raging outside my window I chuckled to myself and though ‘yeah sounds about right’.

Unlike much of Asia the Gregorian calendar has been in use in Japan since 1873 when it superseded the Chinese lunisolar calendar which had been in place for almost 1200 years.

The Chinese calendar divided one solar year into twenty-four points signifying significant celestial events such as solstices, equinoxes and the beginning of the seasons or natural phenomenon. In Japanese these are referred to as Nijushi Sekki 二十四節季 and are still retain some importance in modern society.

The Nijushi Sekki or seasonal days are as follows:

Risshun (立春): February 4—Beginning of spring

Usui (雨水): February 18—Rain water

Keichitsu (啓蟄): March 5—Awakening of Insects (from hibernation)

Shunbun (春分): March 20—Vernal equinox, middle of spring

Seimei (清明): April 4—Clear and bright (skies)

Kokuu (穀雨): April 20—Grain rain

Rikka (立夏): May 5—Beginning of summer

Shōman (小満): May 21—Grain Fills

Bōshu (芒種): June 5—Grain in Ear

Geshi (夏至): June 21—Summer Solstice, middle of summer

Shōsho (小暑): July 7—Little Heat

Taisho (大暑): July 23—Great Heat

Risshū (立秋): August 7—Beginning of Autumn

Shosho (処暑): August 23—End of Heat

Hakuro (白露): September 7—Descent of White Dew

Shūbun (秋分): September 23—Autumnal Equinox, middle of Autumn

Kanro (寒露): October 8—Cold Dew

Sōkō (霜降): October 23—Descent of Frost

Rittō (立冬): November 7—Beginning of winter

Shōsetsu (小雪): November 22—Little Snow

Taisetsu (大雪): December 7—Great Snow

Tōji (冬至): December 22—Winter Solstice, middle of Winter

Shōkan (小寒): January 5— Little Cold

Daikan (大寒): January 20—Great Cold

Many zassetsu days occur in multiple seasons:

Setsubun (節分) prefers to the day before each season, or the eves of Risshun 立春 (Spring), Rikka 立夏(Summer), Risshuu 立秋 (Autumn), and Rittou 立冬 (Winter). However it is most commonly attributed the day before the first day of spring (risshun). Setsubun falls on the 3rd or the 4th of February on the calendar today.

Doyō (土用) refers to the 18 days before each season, especially the one before fall which is known as the hottest period of a year.

Higan (彼岸) is the seven middle days of spring and autumn, with Shunbun at the middle of the seven days for spring, Shūbun for fall.

Shanichi (社日) is the Tsuchinoe (戊?) day closest to Shunbun (middle of spring) or Shūbun (middle of fall), which can be as much as −5 to +4 days away from Shunbun/Shūbun.

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