About Japanese Seasons: An Overview
Japan has 4 distinct seasons starting with a cold and dry winter. The welcome spring is mild and brings out Japan’s famous cherry blossoms. The summer starts with the rainy season in late June or early July, followed by heat and humidity through August. The arrival of autumn is marked by typhoons and heavy rain in September. The colorful fall leaves spectacular and draw crowds of tourists. The far north and south naturally experience the extremes of hot and cold, making Hokkaido good for skiing in winter and Okinawa a popular seaside destination during the warmer months.
Tokyo Climate Chart
The 4 Seasons in Japan
Spring in Japan is and alternating succession of warm and cold days, with the temperature gradually rising. The flowering of the cherry trees singals the full arrival of spring. With its rich and fresh greenery, May is the perfect time for traveling.
Cherry-Blossom Viewing “Hanami”
In Japan, cherry blossoms are what first come to mind when one thinks of flowers. When the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, usually from end of March to April, picnic parties among families and friends are held under the cherry trees, where everyone merrily enjoys drinking and singing Karaoke together.
In Japan, spring is a seasons of transitions and the start of new things, such as a job transfer, or entrance to a new school or company. April especially marks the start of the year for Japanese schools and many companies. Children turning 6 start going to elementary school in April, carrying the standard school backpack (Randoseru).
Golden Week Holiday
The concentration of public holidays from the end of April to the beginning of May is called Golden Week. Domestic resorts and recreations facilities are crowded with those on holiday. Many people also travel abroad during this period.
“Girls’ day” is celebrated on March 3, with beautiful hina dolls displayed, while peach blossoms, hishi-mochi and sweet sake are offered to pray for happiness and healthy growth of the girls in the family. May 5 is “Boys’ Day”. Families with boys display Boys’ Day dolls that express their hopes that the boys will advance in life, like strong carps that swim upstream. This day has been changed to become a national holiday to celebrate the growth of children regardless of boys and girls.
The rainy season start in Mid-June and lasts for about one month. As it ends, summer arrives with full force. Japan’s summer is humid, with many sweltering nights that make it hard for one to sleep. One summer event is the enjoyment of fireworks that vibrantly color the summer night skies.
A mass of dampened air from the south blows in over Japan, bringing long spells of rain throughout the country (expect Hokkaido). The rain is a blessing for plant life, but for the people, it is mostly a nuisance. For this reason most people hope the rainy season would end as soon as possible.
Buddhist Festival “Obon”
This is a Buddhist event held in July (if following the lunar calendar) or August 13-15. Ancestral spirits are invited into the home to be honored. Bond-Odori (folk dances) are also held, with people in Yukata, dancing in a circle. Many take summer vacations during this time and return to their home towns to visit family homes.
All-Japan School Baseball Tournament
In August, the All-Japan High School Baseball Tournament is held at Koshien Stadium (Hyogo prefecture). To play in this tournament is the dream of every high school baseball player. Newspapers and the television provide major coverage on this event, and even people who are usually not interested in baseball get caught up in the excitement of cheering for teams that represent their hometowns.
Despite the lingering summer heat, one begins to sense hints of cool air in September. During this time the Japanese enjoy viewing the moon in the clear skies, this is called tsukimi, and listen to the chirping of insects that signals the arrival of autumn. Rice, vegetables, and fruits are harvested at the height of autumn, the season when Japanese nature shines most beautifully.
As autumn arrives, many athletic festivals are held by each school or in each local district. Such sporting events are unique to Japan, focusing more on reaction and play than competition or records. Some parents also bring video cameras to tape their children’s efforts at these events.
Celebration for Seven, Five and Three-years Old
This is an event that takes place on November 15th for boys turning 3 and 5 years old, and girls turning 3 and 7 years old. Families visit nearby Shinto shrines to pray for their children’s health and growth. Girls dress up in Kimono and boys in Haori and Hakama. It is a tradition to enjoy the celebration with chitose-ame.
Viewing Autumn Foliage “Momijigari”
As Japan enters into late autumn, the nights rapidly become chilly and the leaves begin turning red and yellow. People head to the mountains in search of the vibrantly colored leaves. This is called “Momiji-gari”, which literally means “hunting for autumn leaves”. Many people especially visit the ancient capital of Kyoto and other sites famous for autumn foliage.
This is a season when streets get decorated with Illuminations and Christmas decorations in December and January. The New Year holiday in January gives one a great sense of traditional Japan. The weather is at its coldest during late January to February and regions along the Sea of Japan have heavy snowfall.
Year-End Gift Giving “Seibo”
Seibo, or “year-end gift-giving”, is a custom of sending gifts to acquaintances, co-workers, clients and others to express appreciation for their assistance and cooperation. These gifts are sent around mid-December and are a major target of year-end marketing campaigns. As December begins, the department stores are crowded with people buying such gifts to send out to others.
New Year Holiday
This is the biggest annual event in Japan. Family members who live apart return to their hometowns to greet the New Year as a family. On New Year’s Day, nengajo, or New Year greeting cards, arrive in the mail. There are also customs such as the first visit of the year to a temple or shinto shrine, and giving children otoshidama, New Year’s money gift.
St. Valentine’s Day
The tradition of women giving gifts of chocolate to men to confess their love on this day is unique to Japan. This was started by a confectionery company in the late 1950s. Giri-choko, or token gift of chocolate, is also sometimes passed out to male friends or colleagues.