Living in Japan has given me a whole new appreciation for the seasons. In Japan there are a lot of very season specific things we do and eat. Most of it is very new to me.
I grew up in Florida for the most part. Basically America’s Australia, Floridian seasons differ about as much as the ethnicity of Abercrombie & Fitch models. Sadly the state that I spent my 2nd longest residency was Kansas. I moved there around Christmas in 2000, (Merry Fucking Christmas, right?), but easing the blow was the fact that I was moving to Kansas after a year in Kentucky. I try to block out as much of Kansas as possible now, but from what I can remember… Summer was blisteringly hot, temperatures would push around 103°F (39.4°C, that doesn’t as bad, stupid metrics…).Winter was cold as fuck, -2°F (-19°C, that sounds much much worse…) I remember one time school was canceled because it was so cold the school buses refused to run, that’s right, the machines that run on burning petroleum products said it was too ball-freezing cold to do anything but sit motionless at home. Fall and Spring were pleasant, but the simple fact that about 50% of the year sucked you’d have to be a glass-half full sort of person to like living there, which I’m not thank the good Lord… (Or British)
For reference, I live in Fukuoka Prefecture in Japan. It’s the northern most prefecture on the large southern island of Kyushu. We’re at about the same latitude as South Carolina and Northern Morocco.
Summer in Japanese is “natsu.” Summer-time means you eat watermelon, grapes, cold soba noodles, and cook meat outside.
You go to the beach.
There are festivals and girls wearing yukatas.
In the early morning I go fishing at the river next to my house. I wear my jimbei and sandals to the go shopping and draw strange looks from the natives because only Yakuza walk around like that on everyday errands. The thermometer hits about 38-39°C on the warmest days, but I have no idea how hot that actually is.
There is also Obon in August. It’s the time dedicated to pay respect to the dead. You carry little paper lanterns while burning incense while you walk to the graveyard. You clean up the family graves and bring fresh flowers and mochi, sticky rice balls, for the hungry spirits. Families come home and spend time with each other, I see it as a little like Thanksgiving in that regard.
Fall in Japanese is “aki.” Aki is a popular girls name, typically coupled with -ko, which means child. Fall is the best fishing season. We eat Japanese pears, which are far superior to the western counterparts, and persimmons which the Greeks considered the fruit of the gods.
We celebrate Oktober-fest at gaijin-bars and drink Belgium brewed beers that have high alcohol levels. There are fireworks festivals, more girls in yukatas, and more festival foods.
We start going on more trips to the onsens, hot springs and taking scenic trips to buy locally grown produce from neighboring prefectures. The latter half of fall is the beginning of crab and oyster season, which is cause for more celebration.
Winter in Japanese is “fuyu.” It’s not so cold in Fukuoka. There are maybe 3-5 days when we get a dusting of snow. It never really sticks or anything so you don’t get to make snowmen or snow penises or whatever you make out of snow. Again, because of metrics, I’m not sure how cold it really gets, but if I run around naked outside I start to shiver and girls tend to wear more clothes (T_T)
Food in the winter is hot and delicious for the most part. We eat a lot of crab.
Christmas isn’t really celebrated. Christmas Eve is a popular date night for young couples. Japanese Christmas traditions don’t involve any trees usually and very few presents if any. People do eat “Christmas cake” and KFC, through a long running marketing campaign, has made chicken a popular Christmas dinner. I’m not a big fan though, because they charge about $50 for a slow roasted chicken that you could get for $10 at Costco (Costco Japan, btw).
The big holiday is New Years. The big event on New Years for me is making mochi. It’s accomplished by smashing rice with large wooden mallets which seems fun at first but doing it for 6 hours sucks. We also eat some strange foods like sea slug and pufferfish.
Spring is “haru” in Japanese.
We start planting crops, baseball season starts, school starts, and girls start shedding their heavy winter coats, yay!
We also eat something called tsukushi. It’s a very common plant (weed) that grows in damp areas like drainage ditches (like most weeds). The common name for it in English is horsetail.
We go out and gather this plant (weed) in damp places.
I asked the obvious question, “Spring tastes like ditch water?”
Differences in culture aside Japan still needs help. Please visit my other blog to see if there’s anything you can do.