Seasonal Cues and Our Senses


Blooming Sakura tells us that spring is coming. The cherry blossom front (桜前線, “Sakura Zensen”) moves across Japan from the south to the north, from February to May. You may enjoy viewing the full blossoms of Sakura at the end of March in Tokyo. If you travel to the Tohoku and Hokkaido areas in late April to early May, you will enjoy viewing Sakura again.

The cherry blossoms (Sakura) are the spring specialty. They show us the light pink of gorgeous flowers only a few days a year. When the cherry petals are fallen, we feel that the climate gets warmer.

Iconic Things in Different Seasons

Japan has four distinct seasons. And each season has a seasonal specialty. For example, Sakura represents spring, a voice of a cicada as summer, pampas grass as autumn, and snow as winter. These are examples of representing seasons. For example, a glossary of seasonal terms (歳時記 “Saijiki”) for haiku (俳句 “Haiku”), a short form of Japanese poetry has more than 4,000 season words (季語 “Kigo”).

Close Attention to Seasonal Cues

As haiku indicates, the Japanese have paid close attention to nature and seasonal changes in the historical period. Waka (和歌), classical Japanese poetry with a much longer history than Haiku, has many famous poems expressing poets’ observations about the seasons. Manyoshu (万葉集), the oldest collection of Japanese poetry in the 7th century, has many poems observing and admiring nature and four seasons. Even these days, writing a haiku remains popular in Japan across the generations.

Seasonal Changes of Clothes (“Koromogae”)

Four distinct seasons create the Japanese custom of seasonal changes of clothes, too. The changes of clothes by season (衣替え “Koromogae”) occur in summer and winter when the weather starts to change. “Koromogae” is not all about adaptations of clothes to make them comfortable. It is also about adaptations of clothing designs and accessories to fit the season. In spring, people start wearing light colors like cherry blossoms, while they wear darker colors like maples in autumn.

Japanese Habits to Fit Around?

The four seasons may have the Japanese be sensitive to external changes. At the same time, they may have Japanese developed the habits to fit themselves into the environment around them. While adaptations to the environment are necessary, we want to see more changes from within Japan.

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