Spring Things in Japan - Do You Kigo?

Wednesday, 5 Apr, 2017

Japan takes its seasons seriously, and marks them with “kigo” 季語.

Spring, haru, in Japan is traditionally Feb through May, but, it has not felt like it, and we have had off and on oddness with the weather.

We have celebrated hinamatsuri, the girl’s festival, since our daughters were little, and every year we can hear the lovely call of the uguisu, the Japanese Bush Warbler, in our garden. We have an ume, plum tree, and sakura nearby. It’s a great time of year, except for the cedar pollen! All of these things are what the haiku poets call kigo - symbols of the season. If you’re savvy to them, you can pickup the signs when you’re reading up on your Basho, learning tea ceremony or flower arrangement, or watching old Ozu flicks or even Studio Ghibli animated films.

Sometimes, as a foreigner, I get a little tired of hearing the question “do other places have seasons?”, or, the more emphatic “you don’t have 4 seasons!”. I guess people are really that ignorant, but lately I explain that it is certainly not that we don’t have seasons, but rather about the emphasis Japanese place on them. Of course typical places do; it’s not Antarctica.

Forget anime; the emphasis on an array of “symbols” for the seasons - the kigo - is actually something unique about Japanese culture, and quite interesting when you know them.

Can you feel the haruichiban blowing? I can.

Learn about it