Foreign residents often hear that “only Japan has four seasons” and while that is of course not true, Japan does take its seasons seriously, marking them with seasonal words called “kigo” 季語.

Spring, haru, in Japan is traditionally Feb through May, and it’s a favorite, hopeful time of year. We have celebrated hinamatsuri, the girl’s festival, since our daughters were little, and every year we can hear the lovely call of the uguisu, the Japanese Bush Warbler, in our garden. We have an momo, peach tree, and sakura nearby. It’s a great time of year, except for the cedar pollen!

All of these things are what the haiku poets call kigo - symbols of the season. If you’re savvy to them, you can pickup the signs when you’re reading up on your Basho, learning tea ceremony or flower arrangement, or watching old Ozu flicks or even Studio Ghibli animated films.

The difference between Japan and other countries in terms of seasons, is how Japan emphasizes and codifies them and pays attention to them. You can choose to feel negative about the incessant ice-breaker type statements, or you can take the opportunity to educate a bit, showing someone what the difference actually is. The emphasis on an array of “symbols” for the seasons - the kigo - is actually something unique about Japanese culture, and quite interesting when you know them.

Can you feel the haruichiban blowing? I can.

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