The Poetic Seasons of Japan

Unlike Britain, where the different months seem to blend into each other, Japan is well-known for its distinctive and breathtaking seasons. Japan has contrasting climates due to the length of the island. From the snowy north to the tropical south, the atmospheres are all very different. Japanese poets have tried to capture the essence of these seasons, particularly in the traditional form of the haiku.

Winter (Fuyu)

Winter in Japan is a breathtaking sight to behold. In Hokkaido, the most northern part, there are heavy snowfalls and this region becomes a winter wonderland. Hokkaido is popular for skiers and snowboarders, but also has incredible views and vibrant culture with natural hot springs and ice sculptures. The Sapporo Yuki Matsuri (Sapporo snow festival) is held in the city of Sapporo every year and showcases wonderful creations made from ice and snow, creating a real winter wonderland. Venturing more into the countryside, there are six national parks in Hokkaido to explore and unique indigenous wildlife. The Macaque monkeys are one of the famous animals of this region, although not exclusive to Hokkaido.

Macaques love soaking in hot springs, sometimes while visitors are in them!

Throughout the whole of Japan in this season the air is crisp and the sky is ice-blue; a truly stunning sight. Mount Fuji is considered most beautiful against this backdrop in winter, especially when viewed from one of the surrounding national parks. The winter season embodies the aesthetic the Japanese strive for and has inspired many pieces of art and literary representations. Matsuo Basho is considered to be one of, if not the, greatest haiku poets.

One example of his winter-inspired poetry (in one translation of the Japanese) is entitled ‘Winter Garden’:

Winter garden,

The moon thinned to a thread,

Insects singing.

Spring (Haru)

We have already talked about the significance of Sakura in a previous blog, and while this blossom is highly representative of the season, there are other aspects that mark Japan’s spring as unique. During this period there is an abundance of other unique and beautiful flowers, such as tulips and Azaleas, and May is characterised by its wonderful wisteria and wildflowers. Mountainous regions are particularly popular in spring; the landscape is pristine and picturesque, and it is a stunning sight to see the rivers and streams carrying away the last snows of winter and ushering in the lush greenery of spring. There are many festivals celebrating the birth of spring and end of winter, including the Kamakura and Takayama festivals. If you are lucky enough to have a garden in Japan (this is not usual in the cities due to lack of space), spring is the best time to decorate and embellish it. Keeping the gardens neat and to the standard of wabi-sabi (Japanese aesthetics) is important in Japanese culture.

Summer (Natsu)

Spanning from June to mid-September, summer in Japan is hot and humid, but filled with some of the most exciting festivals of the Japanese calendar. The Obon festival, occurring in mid-August, is a Buddhist celebration that honours spirits and ancestors. Japanese summer is also host to an amazing display of fireworks on different occasions. The Hanabi Taikai is an annual fireworks show held in Tokyo on the Sumida river and is incredibly popular. In true Japanese fashion, these displays are perfectly choreographed and incredible to behold, with the production of these events being meticulously planned. In between festivals, many in Japan will make a trip to the cooler areas in the mountainous regions. Hokkaido is particularly lovely in summer as it is not as humid as the rest of Japan and has many natural wonders and breathtaking landscapes to take in. These respites in the hot summer season have inspired much art and poetry. One example of a haiku describing summer is by Yosa Buson (1716-1784) which goes as follows in one English translation:

The afternoon shower.

Catch the grass or leaf,

The village sparrow.

Autumn (Aki)

Rivalling spring in colours and beauty, Autumn in Japan is also a popular season. The vibrant reds and oranges of the leaves and deep blue skies make for a beautiful scene. The red leaves, koyo, are synonymous with the season and can be used to metaphorically describe the small hands of a child, or the colour of someone’s face when they feel embarrassed. The temperature is also more pleasant during autumn, as there is less of the humidity present than in the summer but it is still relatively warm until November. However, the beginning of Autumn does often bring in typhoons. These hurricane-like storms can cause destruction and chaos, but when the storms have cleared, the sky is perfectly set out to see the stars and the moon. September is popular for traditional moon-viewing, tsukimi. This tradition rivals that of hanami (spring flower viewing), also originating from the Heian era.

Seasonal Designs on Atelier Japan

With seasonal depictions having a special importance within Japanese art forms, Atelier Japan features many different designs specific to Japan’s distinctive seasons. Our makers have their own individual takes on these themes, including the Henko Autumn ornament, created by Ogawa Yozan.