text and photo by Grigoris A. Miliaresis
One of the Japanese’s cliché when they try to communicate with foreigners is the discussion of the seasons; invariably the Japanese will state, not without a hint of pride, that in Japan there are four seasons and immediately after that they will ask the foreigner how many seasons there are in their country. The notion that all temperate regions have four seasons rarely crosses their minds while the next inevitable remark, i.e. that Japan doesn’t have four seasons but, at best, five (since the monsoon, or tsuyu is certainly distinct) puts them in a very uncomfortable position. And this because the idea that Japan has four seasons is one of the cornerstones of Japanese culture, old and modern.
One thing is certain though: the constant discussion about four seasons and its (bordering on brain washing) reminders in all aspects of life, from classical art to advertisements in stores and from cooking to souvenirs for tourists has become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy; it hasn’t affected the weather, of course, but it has made the Japanese particularly sensitive to the slightest weather change (which makes their insistence on their country having four seasons even more absurd!) And when nature really decides it’s time to change everyone overlooks in typical Japanese fashion that the change didn’t occur when it “should have” and enjoy it as much as they can.
Although outside Japan the only acknowledged season change is the passage from winter to spring with the blossoming of the much promoted cherry trees, the most majestic change as far as nature is concerned is the one in autumn (or, to be exact, the one in the end of autumn and the beginning of winter but as I mentioned before, the Japanese circumvent such details). At that time, every park and forest in Japan gets transformed to a panorama of colors with the red and the yellow of the maple trees prevailing; the word for these leaves is “momiji” (紅葉) but the same characters can be also read as “kouyou” to mean the autumn change in general as well as one of the biggest pleasures for the Japanese: the short or longer trips to various places where they can see and marvel at its grandeur.
Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years. For more information about his work and his writing, visit http://about.me/GrigorisMiliaresis and http://www.japanarekore.gr/