Most people have a favorite season, whether it's the hot, sunny days of summer, the crisp air of autumn, the festive celebrations of winter, or the gentle breezes of spring. Waiting for your favorite season to come around every year can be frustrating, though, especially if you're not so keen on some of the others.
In ancient Japan, people saw the changing of the seasons very differently. That's because in contrast to our four seasons, their calendar had 72 "microseasons." They were based on the 24 divisions of the classical Chinese calendar, but divided even further, so that each microseason (known as kō) lasted roughly five days. They were renamed by court astronomer Shibukawa Shunkai in 1685 to match up with Japan's unique climate, and offer a poetic glimpse into the natural world of Japan. Today, for example, is the final day of Kaminari sunawachi koe o osamu, which means "thunder ceases," while tomorrow marks the start of Mushi kakurete to o fusagu ("Insects hole up underground").
To everything there is a season:
- Following on from its Chinese origins, the ancient Japanese calendar begins in early February with Harukaze kōri o toku, or "East wind melts the ice." The final microseason is Niwatori hajimete toya ni tsuku ("Hens start laying eggs"), from January 30-February 3.
- Many of the kō refer to plants and animals, including Sake no uo muragaru, which means "Salmon gather and swim upstream," coinciding with December 17-21, and Kaiko okite kuwa o hamu ("Silkworms start feasting on mulberry leaves") on May 21-25.
- Bridging ancient and modern, the "72 Seasons" smartphone app displays the passing of the seasons with haiku, photos, and paintings as the year progresses.