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Japanese culture has a lot of beliefs that don’t always make much sense from a Western point of view. In Japan, drinking cold beverages is clearly bad for your health.

One of the stranger assertions that you’ll hear is that one of Japan’s best features is its four, distinct seasons. That may sound benign at first, but for some, the implication is that these four seasons—winter, spring, summer, and fall—are unique characteristic of Japan, that it’s the only country in the world that enjoys this natural phenomenon.

As a foreigner, my first reaction to hearing that was one of incredulity. That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard! Places all over the world have four seasons, how could somebody actually believe that they only happen in Japan?!

Obviously, some this isn’t something that every single Japanese person believes and will vehemently defend, but it’s still something that’s present in the popular consciousness. In the years since I’ve heard about this belief, I’ve wondered a lot about where it comes from.

Here are some of the theories—from the absurd to the more credible—about how this belief about the four seasons came about:

Poetry

One theory I’ve heard behind the Japanese four seasons belief is that it’s derived from Chinese poetry. Japan, through its cultural ties with China, has a long, rich tradition of poetry celebrating the four seasons.

Chinese poetry and, subsequently Japanese poetry, have historically been celebrated and influential artforms in their respective cultures and around the world. You only have to look at the haiku style of poetry and its prevalence outside of Japan to see poetry’s cultural impact.

One of the most common themes of East Asian poetry is nature, and more specifically the unique feelings of the seasons. There’s even a special word for a word or phrase in poetry about the seasons: kigo (季語).

three-haikai-poetes

Take these poems by master poet Matsuo Basho:

Рiping autumn wind
blows with wild piercing voice
through the sliding door…

Soon they have to die,
but there is no sign of it
in cicadas’ cries.

Tis the first snow—
Just enough to bend
The gladiolus leaves!

Each of these paints a very vivid picture of a particular season, envoking different, natural phenomena—like cicada, autumn wind, and snow—to set the tone. This Japanese Life has a great post about Japanese poets celebrating the turning of the seasons with more examples.

Evidently, Korean people also sometimes make the claim that their country is unique in enjoying four seasons. This would support the Chinese poetry theory, since both Korea and Japan have a shared cultural heritage from China.

I’m not sure how Japan and Korea will settle which country truly has four seasons. This could be an issue bigger than the disputed islands! Will this be the next big diplomatic struggle between the two nations? Time will tell.

Festivals

The Japanese calendar is littered with all kinds of cultural celebrations, both national and local. Many of them are based on the turning of the season, or at the very least coincide very closely with the changing of one season to the next.

In Japan, going out to picnic and watch the cherry blossoms during hanami is an obvious, visible marker that spring has arrived. Obon often marks the end of the summer, with the ever-present cicadas providing background music to the festivities.

hanami

Photo by gullevek

These nationally-celbrated holidays give a cadence to the passing of the year, marking the beginnings and ends to the seasons. Japan’s seasonal festivals are far from unique in their timing and significance—I can think of many holidays celebrated here in the US that have seasonal significant.

In the United States, Memorial Day and Labor Day bookend the summer, and harvest celebrations Halloween and Thanksgiving provide landmarks in the fall. That’s not to mention commononly religious holidays like Easter, which fits in with the whole theme of spring as a time of renewal.

It may be that the holidays and festivals in Japan are so distinctly Japanese that it can be hard to see the equivalents in other cultures. Labor Day? Is that like Obon?

Japanese Exceptionalism

One theory that Koichi mentioned in a Tofugu post years ago blames a set of fringe beliefs known as “Nihonjinron.” Nihonjinron comprises a wide set of ridiculous claims about how Japanese people are unique and, in some cases, superior to other peoples. These beliefs are ultra-nationalist and borderline (if not blatantly) racist.

Some Nihonjinron beliefs cover Japan’s supposedly unique geography, and how it’s affected Japanese biology and psychology. It’s easy to imagine how this train of thought might lead to the notion of a uniquely Japanese four seasons.

japanese-imperial-army-flag

The literature blog No-Sword quotes one Nihonjinron author who, while admitting that Europe also has four seasons, notes that Japan’s climate is unique among Asia:

Japan is rich in seasonal change without widely separated extremes in temperature, and this climate must surely be the most important foundation stone on which the Japanese way of life and artistic expression rest

I should stress that these kind of Nihonjinron beliefs are, of course, absurd and far from mainstream Japanese thought; not to mention that this kind of environmental determinism is largely frowned upon in academic fields. It is, however, very easy to draw a line between these Nihonjinron beliefs and belief in Japan’s unique four seasons.

What’s In a Season?

I have to come clean and at least mention that not every place in the world has the same kind of distinct four seasons that Japan does. Many parts of the globe have climates that don’t lend themselves to seasons with neat beginnings and ends. When I think of a place like Los Angeles, it’s hard to see much difference between the seasons—it all just seems to run together.

But as long as we’re being honest, the idea of all of Japan having these discernible four seasons is questionable at best. Geographically, Japan’s not a huge place, but it’s large enough to have big variations in climate between different areas of the country. The tropical southern islands of Japan are unlikely to see the kind of snow that great poets write about, and the very northern tip of Japan is probably shivering from the cold as people in Tokyo get drunk at hanami.

Throw in the rainy seasons to the equation and it gums up the works. Do typhoons constitute their own season? Are there actually five, or even six seasons in Japan?

So clearly, the notion that Japan is the only place in the world with four, distinct seasons is a ludicrous idea that’s clearly and demonstrably not true; but the belief, and the theories behind them are endlessly fascinating, and might even lend some insight into other cultural phenomena.


Wallpapers and GIFs!

Want to watch the uniquely Japanese seasons turn? Our amazing artist Aya has provided us with some desktop backgrounds and animated GIFs of the header image. Enjoy!

Wallpaper (1280×800)
Wallpaper (2560×1440)

GIF (700×438)
GIF (1280×800)

  • DAVIDPD

    To be fair, all of East Asia believes (traditionally speaking) hot beverages are better for you on hot days. Also the mixing of hot and cold foods should never occur. // Indeed, South Korea and Japan share similar seasonality as well as festivals and holidays based around the seasons, mainly harvests. // Thanks Hashi.

  • http://www.myjapanesegreentea.com/ Ricardo Caicedo

    My country, Colombia, is in the equator line so no seasons here, same all year round : )

  • Brad Garrett

    In Louisiana you have Summer, and Not Summer.

  • Teri

    Never heard this one before. From my experience people are surprised to hear that Japan (and China and Korea) have winter because as kids we saw a lot of Vietnam, Phillipines, and Malaysia, which are in asia, populated with Asians and full of jungles and hot, humid temperatures. Guess that’s what happens when you’re raised by the TV.

    Hey, while I’m here, is Cat Island coming soon? Totally can’t wait to see your footage.

  • Kasma88

    In the Uk, for the majority of the year, you have a grey blanket of cloud that alternates between throwing it down and a dry gloom. Every now and then, you sporadically get summer weather where everyone runs to grab shorts and take off their shirts to enjoy what will no doubt last for a day at most… Bitter? You bet!

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    I see the Mysterious Alpaca has returned for Tofugu’s summer solstice seasonal post. I’ve got my eye on you, alpaca.

  • Nguyen Le

    here, only two choices :v rainy or not :v

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    HE KNOWS TOO MUCH

  • Patrick Henry de Dios

    Living in a tropical country, we only have 2 seasons, wet (rainy) and dry (summer) seasons.

  • DamalSeer

    In Arizona you have Summer, Monsoon and Cool weather.

  • http://www.twitter.com/christaran Chris Taran

    This is one of the single most insane things I have ever heard of that Japanese people believe. Heck, I wish I didn’t have 4 seasons! Winter sucks in Pennsylvania!

  • Caleb

    Here in kansas the seasons do whatever they want. In early spring it could snow one day, be clear the next and tornado the day after that with storms all spring long. Summer gets extremely hot and dry. Hurray drought weather! Fall is pretty mellow but can still be pretty warm or chilly depending on the summer heat. Winter is more ice when it snows and makes it fun to drive. In other words kansas has bipolar spring, drought, fall, and ice.

  • Bob

    Here in Colorado, our seasons are “soon to be on fire”, “on fire”, “was recently on fire”, and “construction”. We got a lot of trees for a desert, I guess it’s bound to happen…

  • Lizzy

    Here in chicago we sometimes get all four seasons in one day!

  • Kim

    Once in elementary school I was to write a essay about Denmark (my native country). I remember when I asked people around “What is special about Denmark?” Many answered “The seasons” I was confused and as stupid as I was, I asked “don’t they have seasons in other countries.”

    I don’t know if people outside of Denmark think that the seasons characterize Denmark but if it does, it can’t be because of ancient Chinese poetry. (I don’t think people outside of Denmark know much about us.)

  • Datte baru

    In Morocco it’s cold even if it’s juin , and it’s hot in december … Now it’s cold

  • Anthony

    I thought Japan traditionally had 24 seasons. Is 4 just the simplified version?

  • Christopher Stilson

    The equivalent for Washington:

    “Spring”
    Rainfall on the grass
    Restores everything to green
    And cleanses the air.

    “Summer”
    It is too damn hot.
    That is to be expected
    When it does not rain.

    “Autumn”
    Rainfall on the leaves
    Makes the footing slippery:
    Watch out for the slugs.

    “Winter”
    Perhaps once a year
    You might see a patch of snow:
    Mostly on mountains.

    The equivalent for Alberta:

    “Winter, part 1″
    The snow starts early.
    The roads are too hazardous…
    Because of one inch.

    “Winter, part 2″
    We can’t go outside.
    It is too damn cold out there.
    Our noses freeze shut.

    “Winter, part 3″
    Every day we wish
    We might get some rain instead,
    But there’s just more snow.

    “Summer”
    Windows all open,
    Air conditioning blasting…
    When will winter come?

  • hallus

    Well, I would say in my experience, I have to give the Japanese some credit.

    1. So I grew up in Connecticut which has 4 very distinct seasons which are the exact same 4 that you see here in Japan. So yes, I had the same response as you AT FIRST. But, if you look at Japanese poetry (as you mentioned) and also, in my opinion, most importantly modern Japanese foods and teas, culture still largely revolves around seasons. There are also certain vacations that you go on during the course of these seasons -> to really more fully experience the season, or otherwise to escape it. By comparison, in Connecticut, if you read early American lit, you get some jist of the importance of season (think similar to Japanese poetry), but you do not have the same abundance of food differences -> in my experience what goes into miso soup at fancy restaurants change with the season, and the fact that during spring everything is sakura-ized. Although obviously some of our foods change based on what can be grown, nobody in my experience has said “This is a Spring food.” with the exception perhaps of Apple Cider – which I would definitively tell you is a Fall thing. Not many truly make that connection in the US with food. However, vacations are the same as Japan, at certain times of the year you should be going to certain places to absorb the season.

    Ultimately, while 4 seasons occur in many more parts of the world than Japan, I would say the Japanese are much more aware of the individual seasons than other places. Sure we still notice: Summer = Hot, Fall = Leaves, Winter = Snow, and Spring = Flowers, but I don’t think we dwell on it as much as the Japanese do (largely because I think nature is more definitively still in their culture or maybe it is because we don’t have as much seasonal beer).

    2. Tokyo Japanese have always talked to me about the Japanese 5th season -> which is the Rainy season (which to my surprise you didn’t even mention here to my surprise because that was really odd when I first heard it!)

  • Aquila

    Of all the things that drive me crazy about Japan, this is one of my top 5. To me, it reeks of Nihonjinron. And I get it all the time. People who I’ve just met will slowly, and with great difficulty, explain that Japan has 4 seasons. Publications aimed at international audiences will state that Japan has four seasons like it is something we probably don’t know. Even my Japanese textbook in a cultural note, tells me that Japan has four seasons and “Japanese people feel that spring is warm, summer hot, autumn cool, and winter cold.” Thanks, textbook, because only Japanese people feel that way.

    Also, I vote for rainy season being its own separate season in Japan. It has distinct weather that is dramatically different than the weeks before and after. And you can see all the pretty hydrangeas.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Out of curiosity, what rounds out the rest of the top 5?

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    I mentioned the rainy season (very briefly) in the third paragraph in the “What’s In a Season?” section.

  • Zach

    In Australia you have Summer and super summer.

  • Zach

    Sounds like important things to me, we only have 1 season in Australia or at least in the top half, the bottom half has Summer and Winter.

  • Zach

    Vietnam has winter? When

  • http://www.vietamins.com Viet

    I imagine hse is referring to the north part of Vietnam (Lao Cai, etc). I don’t know if Hanoi has 4 distinct seasons, but it isn’t like Saigon where its hot hot hot.

    Da Lat can get cooler too, but not sure if there is winter there.

  • shiro

    Seasons are intensely important to the Japanese people. That’s why my coworkers ask me, “Do you have four seasons in your country?” every single time the season changes, year after year…

    Granted, sometimes they change it up. “Is it hot in your country?” “Is it cold in your country?” “Does it rain in your country?” and so on.

  • shiro

    She’s saying people are surprised to hear that Japan has seasons because on TV we usually see a lot of tropical Asian countries like Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia.

  • Kamkambuttons

    Here in Australia, we have the four seasons, just like everywhere else. But of course everyone’s impressions of the four seasons is different because we all live in different places.

    For me, summer is incredibly hot. A lot of evenings are spent desperately trying to cool down at the beach/local pool/any puddle of water big enough to dip a toe in. Our every day lives are dictated by the heat, with some business and schools shutting down if it gets to around 45 degrees (C not F sorry guys). We have Christmas in summer, and that’s what most people think of when it comes to summer, and of course the 6 week school holidays marking the end of a school year and the start of the next.

    Autumn is usually associated with the leaves turing, but in Australia most of our plants choose to keep their leaves. As a result if this, our autumns are just cold, and not very colourful. Although there are still the occasional trees that do turn, and it’s always exciting to find one, with its pile of leaves at the bottom. We have our Easter in autumn, not thanksgiving or Halloween or any other American holiday. Australia isn’t big on Halloween and thanksgiving.

    Winter is long, cold and incredibly boring. In America, Christmas is in winter, but here we have nothing. We don’t even get the reward of snow, unless you live in Canberra. Also I find with winter, it’s incredibly cold in the mornings, so everyone piles up with scarfs and jumpers and gloves, but around 3 (when just so happen to be walking home from school) it’s gets hot again, and everyone has to take off all their layers until 5, when the sun goes down and it starts to get cold again. Where I live, we get frost, not snow.

    Spring! I can happily say that spring in Australia is similar to what spring is stereotyped as. All the wild flowers come out in an ocean of reds, pinks, yellows and purples. The bush is instantly transformed by orchids, kangaroo paws, and literally hundreds of other wild flowers. Over on the west coast, there are celebrations for these flowers at places like botanical gardens. But spring is still pretty cold up until November-ish. America’s Halloween and Thanksgiving fall in spring, although only teenagers who are desperately craving sugar go to the effort of dressing up and door knocking. Most of them get turned away, there are very few houses that are prepared for Halloween, and it usually ends in disappointment. Also, October is when daylight savings starts, and it doesn’t get dark until 8 – 8:30. And thanksgiving, well most Australians don’t know what thanksgiving is! Something about turkeys and chestnuts?

  • MisterM2402

    Anyone from the UK knows that we can have all four seasons in one day! :D
    As for certain Japanese people believing they’re unique in having four seasons, that’s just stupidity, really. Saying that Japanese people are inherently smarter or stronger or whatever is obviously a subjective matter, but other countries having the concept of four seasons is just a simple fact; there’s no ambiguity or room for opinion or interpretation. It would be like me saying Scotland is the only country that gets rain, or the only one that has a flag, or the only one whose people eat bread.

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    I agree that there are a few things where Japanese people will be like: “Only in Japan blah blah …!”
    However, if you’ve ever lived in Japan for a few years you’ll understand better about the “4 seasons” blabbering!
    When I first moved to Japan I also thought it was ridiculous.

    “In Germany we also have 4 seasons!” – I thought.

    It is really a bit different in Japan! I can’t speak for each and every country in the world, but compared to all other countries I’ve been to Japan really deserves the “distinct seasons” stamp.

    It’s hard to describe and even if I do I’m not sure if you’ll understand. I guess it’s somthing you have to experience yourself for a few years.
    In Japan there are 4 seasons, but also many tiny seasons that end one of the bigger seasons and introduce the next one (e.g. rainy season). Each of these smaller seasons comes with special “items”, e.g certain flowers that bloom, special food that will be eaten, certain animals, insects or birds. And it’s the exact same every year with only very few exceptions.

    You can be sure that there’ll be hydrangeas everywhere in June and the noise of frogs in the rice paddies. You can be sure that it’ll get extremely hot an humid after rainy season is over and the buzzing sound of cicadas is coming.

    While we have 4 seasons in Germany as well, the cut is by far not as clear. We also don’t have and smaller “seasons” that introduce the next one. The weather is unstable and while we have seasonal food it’s NOTHING compared to Japan.

  • Liann

    Same in Missouri!

  • Catherine

    Canberra resident here – we’ve had snow maybe 6 times in the 12 years I’ve been living here? Though, we had a big hailstorm last week, that was fun. If you want snow, you’ve gotta to the mountains!

  • ZA다ルﻣ

    oh, i love construction! we have that here in northeast ohio, too

  • shuirin

    Well I experienced the four seasons in Japan and have to say, for somebody who is used to faster changes between seasons Japan’s seasons seem like slowly transcending into each other. For me it feels more like Winter, Summer and in between a little difference in temperature. I wouldn’t call it spring nor fall (temperature vice) simply because I’m used to drastic changes in temperature and visible. (I don’t want to say you can’t see the difference in nature, it’s just the temperature difference isn’t as big as I’m used to)

  • conpanbear

    In Melbourne, Australia, we get all four seasons in one day.

  • Aquila

    That is a really difficult question, Hashi. I think my answers might change from day to day but here is my best shot. Besides not knowing the language well, these things annoy me on a daily basis in Japan:

    1. Nihonjinron – I see it in a lot more places than from the far right. Japan is so special, only Japanese people do this or feel this way or understand this etc. I don’t mind a little pride in one’s country, but Nihonjinron is often racially linked. People who have a foreign parent/foreign parents but live in Japan all their lives aren’t considered Japanese. Foreigners who live in Japan will never be considered Japanese. Because Japan is oh so special, and their culture is oh so special, etc. I’m not explaining it well, but I feel like Nihonjinron is often different than patriotism (which sometimes annoys me to). Also, I think Nihonjinron ties into Japan is the perpetual victim.

    2. The school system. I remember grow up in the 80’s and hearing how wonderful the Japanese school system was. Now having lived here, I think they must have visited an alternate Japan because it is terrible. (although the kindergartens look nice, if you can find one that actually does discipline.) I think every expat could write at least one essay about the Japanese school system, so I will spare you mine.

    3. Shoganai. (which I heard a lot more than shikataganai). This means it can’t be helped. A little of this is a great thing, and I think we Americans certainly need some. But Japan has too much of it, and so instead of dealing with problems, they just ignore them.

    4. Holding the appearance of harmony within the group as an overriding concern. A little of this is great; people should endure minor annoyances and inconveniences without complaint. However, too often people in Japan won’t confront problems or other people. They won’t express disagreement, even when someone is clearly wrong or even malicious because that would disrupt the group. So people follow someone with a strong enough personality to resist or at least manipulate the social system to do as they please. When that leader is a bully, or a jerk or makes a mistake, no one says anything. Sometimes girls don’t even speak up when they get molested on the train, because it would disturb people! Children who can find enough courage to complain about bullies get scolded for not getting along with the group. Furthermore, I don’t find that people so much as let go of their private feelings of resentment (although some do), but save them up until they explode or get drunk so it is socially acceptable to complain. So sometimes, a person could be unknowingly annoying someone else. That person never explains why or confronts the problems, but gradually gets more and more annoyed. Finally, there will be a situation and the annoyee will react with all the feelings stored up inside or them, disproportionate to the actual event.

  • helenaaaa

    Interesting list. :) Nihonjinron we have in my family’s cultural heritage too. It’s called Greek people. haha. Mostly first (and even second generation Greek-Americans when they’re drunk) and Greeks in Greece are like this (no one can debate me on this because if you are Greek you know it’s true). Beyond democracy, the Olympics, modern theatre, and many English words, they think they invented the world, and no one on earth is greater. If you think about it, there are a lot of Americans also like this (far beyond patriotism). America is so big though, that it’s not as noticeable, and may not be as prevalent in more urban areas, but it’s definitely still here in some pockets of America (kind of ironic though, since all Americans except Native Americans, were at one time immigrants. Die hard super-Americans tend to conveniently forget this fact).

    Our schools systems are also hot, hot mess in America. I have several friends who are teachers, and complain either daily about the school systems, or have left teaching altogether (sad, because they are good teachers) to go into nursing or hospitality or what have you, because the school systems, boards of education, or kids, are such a horrible mess. Maybe most school systems are a mess. I’ve read that Finland’s is great, but i don’t know enough about it.

    And I have a relative that says “Well, what are you gonna do?” at everything like a broken record, then never takes action to fix any problem. That one isn’t a general American mentality though, so that’s good. We are definitely more of a socially proactive, unapologetic culture, and i think it’s a good thing (but perhaps i only think that because i grew up in it, & it’s what i know…??)

    The last one (#4), I hear about A LOT, and this mentality is probably linked to a number of other negative things in Japanese society, including pent-up resentment and anger, depression, being over-worked (going home only when the slave-driver boss goes home), and things like the higher suicide rate among all age groups. Here, some of us might stay later at work or work over-time …for awhile, but if it became a regular occurrence, most of us would probably either quit and go elsewhere (maybe it’s our generation too though…), or just leave, and file a complaint with the state if we didn’t get enough breaks or got fired over it. I feel like many Americans wouldn’t let work mistreatment go TOO far before they found a way to stick it to their company. Stickin’ it to the man, is definitely the American way. And I am proud of this mentality, as unproductive as it might be. :)
    This, “anything for harmony within the group” (even though it’s not really harmony if everyone is secretly miserable…) over personal harmony and personal freedom, is probably one of the biggest differences in culture between the U.S. and Japan that I notice Americans living abroad, bring up the most. There are quite a few personal freedoms I’d give up, for the good of the whole society (which i won’t go into because i don’t wan to spark too much debate), but maybe some of my personal mentality is what attracts me to Japanese culture in the first place, I don’t know. I do however think that too much suppression of feelings out of “politeness” or “for the good of the group” is really mentally and physically unhealthy in so many ways, and inadvertently causes a lot more discord than the harmony it claims or hopes to promote. But it’s interesting to observe some of the differences in cultures, and I understand how some of them could be really frustrating to deal with on a daily basis.
    The self righteous family in My Big Fat Greek Wedding… well It’s really like that. That film was like, HARDLY a stretch of the imagination. My mother gives me a hard time about learning Japanese, and i’m an adult, and she’s 2nd generation American! My grandparents were born here, and she doesn’t even speak Greek! I’m gonna start calling my family Ellinasjinron! hah! :D
    Thanks for your list. It was insightful. :)

  • FLa de dah

    I live in a tropical (supposedly tropical) U.A. state, and seasons and years have come and gone without my knowledge because all I see is green, all the time. That’s probably nice in place of a Northeastern winter, but, year in and year out, it’s pretty depressing. I remember going to New England for the first time as a child in the Fall, and seeing fall leaves, and pumpkins that stayed out all month without rotting and being attacked by a thousand insects (pumpkins must be carved on Halloween here, and thrown away the next day), and I couldn’t believe that Fall with cold air and changing leaves was a real thing. I thought it was really only in movies!! :D It was so amazing.<3

  • Henro

    Your list is spot-on exactly what I feel, too. I have step kids in the school system, and I’ve been really…upset, generally, about it lately. I also get nihonjinron in my own house from my stepsons (sometimes my wife), and it annoys the crap out of me. I try to tell my kids that there is a “no racism” rule in my house, but nihonjinron is so damn sneaky. Sometimes it really is this otherwise innocuous stuff – and it’s often negative towards Japanese people, which makes it so ironic. My wife spent the Olympics insisting that Japan was only losing because “we’re so small.”

    I HAVE started telling my kid to “cut the weird racism” whenever he tries to claim that “Japanese people’s legs are so short,” or that “Japanese people are so good at eating rice.” He got one past me the other day, though: I did something sloppily, and he sneered, “You’re obviously not Japanese.” Ugh.

    OH. And before anyone comes in and tries to call you racist (mf-ing Mescale), you are ABSOLUTELY right to think and feel these things. You absolutely have to face these aspects of Japan in order to accept Japan. And, I realized recently, anyone who moves to Japan faces a CHOICE. You have to look at these things and make a decision: do I love Japan enough to accept these aspects of it? It is great that you have such a calm, collected understanding of how you feel about the culture.

  • Aquila

    Thank you for your response. I don’t envy you in the slightest having to deal with kids in the school system and the sneaky racism. You have a long and hard fight ahead of you. I don’t think I could do it.

  • Aquila

    We definitely have problems with nationalism and the school system in America as well, and I am not saying that Japan is the only country to have them. Thanks for talking about your own experiences. :)

    I think part of the reason these grate on me so much is because of my position as an outsider. However, some parts are worse in Japan. For example, I would never put my child in the Japanese school system unless there was absolutely no possible way otherwise. I’d look at any other method – private international schools, homeschooling, even moving to another country before having my kids in the system here. While I know schooling in America can be bad, I feel like that is the exception rather than the rule.

    I agree, I think we Americans (in general) could benefit from valuing group harmony and sacrificing for the sake of the greater good. I feel like more and more, people in America don’t feel any obligations (or at least, very little to society. So I’d like to take about 15% of this part of Japanese culture and inject it into our own. But I hate it when “group harmony” leads to suppression of people’s rights, safety, corruption, significant inefficiency, bullying and discrimination. I know it does good things too, but so often, I see the negative effects of it here.

  • sena

    And i thought turkish people were the only ones so proud to have 4 seasons :D and more turks are too proud about turkey being a peninsula

  • Admit it.

    Admit it, a great deal of Japanese, both young and old, are some of the most close-minded, blinded by patriotic pride fools on the planet. This isn’t a slight on their personalities, more on their way of thinking. I love living here, but living in the 21st century (in a modern world super power) and witnessing some of the beliefs held by Japanese people is baffling. It’s the blind faith in believing in everything that’s told to you without question. If you’re an old geezer it’s tolerable, but if you’re a 20-something year old and you’re going to start telling me things about 4 seasons, or how fruit is expensive because it tastes better in Japan, or my favorite, “yes we have small penises but they get much harder,” (That last one is 100% true and I’ve heard it plenty of times.) I want to smack some sense into your head.

  • emko3827

    In Dubai, you have Summer, Summer, Summer and Hell.

  • henro

    Well, it’s a choice, I think. I balanced out the good and the bad of the world, and decided that, on the whole, trying to explain to my Japanese stepson why he is absolutely not genetically predisposed to have short legs is better than any of the other options I have on hand. It’s not actually as hard as it sounds, and I think it is absolutely something you could do if you chose to. You do seem to have an incredibly good grasp of the culture and how you feel about it, so you’ve already figured out the most difficult part.

  • Genkakuzai

    I honestly never ran into a japanese person claiming they were the ONLY ones to have four seasons. They like to point our that they HAVE four seasons however, but they’re far from alone in that.

  • Kamkambuttons

    I used to live in Canberra before my family migrated to the coast, and in the 4 years we lived there it only snowed once. But it’s still snow compared to what everywhere else gets!

  • Hinoema

    “Japan is rich in seasonal change without widely separated extremes in temperature…”

    In the last six months here (southern Arizona) it has varied from 8 degrees to 108 degrees, so don’t even with that, Japans.

  • Elaine Czech

    Well in thinking about schools, in America the public schools are not all on the same curriculum/track. This can be a nightmare if you have to transfer schools, but it can also be a blessing because if you don’t like your public school (if you have the means) you can transfer.

  • Henro

    Exactly. The Japanese system is more standardized across the country, so this is one (of MANY) reasons that comparing Japanese schools to American schools is apples and oranges – pointless and a waste of time. )

    In fact, some of the problems of US schools (over reliance on standardized testing and overcrowding in the classroom) are actual GOALS of (some) Japanese schools.

    It turns out, if you pay thousands of dollars for your child to go to a special, private school in Japan – you can expect him to have class sizes of up to FIFTY students, and their ENTIRE curriculum aimed 100% at teaching him to pass standardized tests.

    This is just one example, but this isn’t a run-down public school I’m talking about. This is one of the most expensive private schools in the prefecture – their class size is 50 and the students do nothing but study for their tests. I’ve even been told that they don’t have labs for their chemistry classes, because it’s all book work.

    This is the IDEAL in Japan, whereas in America is the worst possible case scenario. So, yeah. If you want to compare Japanese schools to American, there just is no point: the problems we have in American schools are the stated goals that (some) Japanese schools strive for.

    Oh, and that’s not even getting into the fact that even after all the money you spend on private schools here, it STILL isn’t enough for children to get a decent education, and many students have to go to hyper-expensive cram schools until 9 or 10 o’clock at night just to be able to pass their tests. Yes, even the kids going to hyper-expensive, “elite” private schools have to go to these cram schools. Part of the reason for this is that, even if you go to a private school, a HUGE portion of your time in school is devoted to time-wasting events and festivals and other projects that take up months and months of the students’ time preparing for during school hours.

    American schools have problems, but wow, it just doesn’t compare to Japan. There is absolutely no comparison whatsoever.

  • belgand

    San Francisco largely has little in the way of seasons. They do exist, but the differences tend to be more subtle, or at least, less like the ones that most people expect. For one thing the seasonal temperature variation tends to only be about 10-15 degrees F… but that only tells part of the story. The big one is that fall/winter tend to be the rainy season and spring/summer are a dry season with little rain. It’s not an absolute, but there’s a strong tendency. The other odd change is that the real temperature often has less to do with the listed one. This is because summer is probably one of the coldest seasons. Why? Because it’s also the foggiest season. Hot temperatures inland mean that cold ocean winds get sucked across the city where they create fog. So we spend days and sometimes weeks covered with a dense bank of cold grey and with plenty of wind so the sun never gets a chance to heat the air up. Even when the weather is warmer there’s still usually a constant breeze coming off the ocean and blowing away any warm air. Crossing the street into the shade can make things noticeably cooler and once the sun goes down it gets pretty cold.

    I actually welcome not having seasons in general. They’re largely unpleasant and things should ideally just reach a perfect temperature without inclement weather (or the horrors of snow) and just stay that way. The only problem is that our temperature stays stuck at about 50-65 F year-round so it’s always cold and often pretty damp. Terrible during the summer, but at least it’s not freezing cold in the winter.

  • Admiral Awesome

    In Florida we only have two seasons, the Wet season and the dry season, and man is it boring.

  • Admiral Awesome

    The only thing that irks me with this chain quotes is the presumption that American schools are at all good. Especially since the no child left behind act, I’ve had kids back in highschool that barely knew how to read. The school system here is terrible, most States give some extremely basic standardized test to choose if you pass, where in high school you’re probably doing middle school math and reading. I’m in college now and it seems they allow anyone into Universities, because the same idiots are here. When I have children, I’d be MORE than happy to dish out money for them to study for tests all day in a private school and come out actually being respectable intelligent adults, instead of a bunch of idiots, but of course our education in the US MUST be amazing, or else we would be outsourcing all our employees, oh wait…

  • crella

    I can’t put my hand on the source, but I read that the ‘four seasons’ bit was supposedly to make Japan special within Asia, where some places have only ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ seasons. It’s simply a mistake that they apply the concept to the rest of the world.

  • Timothy Takemoto

    I am a dyed in the wool nihonjinronner and believe the Japanese to be very different from WASPS. The emphasis on seasons is all part of a bigger emphasis upon nature as sign, for emotions, family names, crests, body parts, and as explicative of culture because, rather than thinking in language, the Japanese think with things that are good to think with (bons a penser).

    However perhaps all the talk of four seasons is to hide the fact that Japan has five seasons, spring, summer, autumn, winter and tsuyu, the rainy season, which no one likes.

  • Henro

    I’m not saying US education is good, I’m saying that the problems are different.

    For example, as you hinted at, basic standardized testing is one of the biggest problems in US education; here in Japan, standardized tests are the entire point, purpose and goal of education. You talk about kids who can’t even read in the US, well, we have kids in Japan who can’t even tell you what food they like, or what things make them happy, because they just don’t even know anymore. You have private schools where kids are crammed 50 to a class and never, ever ask the teacher questions.

    And I don’t think you understand what juku is. It’s a second school that students go to after regular school – it is a repetition of the same stuff they do all day, but slightly more intense. Most jukus go until 9 or 10 o’clock at night. My 11-year-old was going to juku until 9 each night for a few months before we pulled him out. So, juku isn’t just special tutoring – it’s basically a regular school classroom. So think about that: from 9AM to 9PM doing the same thing, all day – 12 hours a day, studying the same things over and over and over again. It’s not a special, better class where you pay money for your kid to get a real education – it’s just more hours of your child crammed into a small classroom doing worksheets late into the night.

    Think about that: 12 hours a day for many of these kids, with little one or two week vacations that aren’t really vacations (they still go to school every day despite being on vacation), and it’s STILL not enough??? I’m sorry, but there is just no point in comparing the two systems, because our problems are so different. In fact, Japanese school as it exists would be highly illegal in America, because it would basically be categorized as “abuse” and shut down over night.

    My point is, any time someone says something about Japan, you don’t need to jump in and start saying, “Yeah, but America!” It has NOTHING to do with anything happening here, and making comparisons is pointless.

  • Simon France

    In England we have can have all four seasons in a week…. …and the Nihonjinron are known as the English Defence League.

  • Jonathan Harston

    Additionally, what puzzles me is the cultural insistence that each season is the same length. I can’t make myself think of June as “summer”, but if June is Spring, that makes September “Summer”, which is even more absurd.