A Nation of Four Distinct Seasons, More or Less

One of the defining characteristics of the Japanese is a belief that Japan is unique because it is a nation of four distinct seasons. The Japanese are surprised when people from other countries point out that their countries also have four seasons. In fact, in Kansas, as last summer proved, it’s possible to to have four distinct seasons in one day. The Japanese usually counter with “Yes, but are they DISTINCT seasons?”

Part of this stems from the fact that, relative to it’s wealth, Japan is a small nation which makes it easier for it to have four distinct seasons. The problem is, the Japanese believe their seasons break down as Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn. The truth is, of course, much more complicated. In the Tokyo region, for example, the seasons are best described as Static, Pleasant, Humid, and Awesome.

The defining characteristic of Static is a lack of humidity that dries and cracks the skin and makes all metal objects potentially dangerous (albeit a lot of fun in dark rooms). Static also features stunning blue skies, drunks on trains and snow.

Static gives way to Pleasant. The air is warming and the island is turning green and the drunks are moving from the trains to the parks to enjoy the cherry blossoms. Unfortunately, the air is beginning to feel a bit sticky but you still have to have your entire wardrobe ready because, as I like to point out, it always gets cold one more time after someones says “Well, I’ll bet that’s the last time it’s going to be cold.” You are wrong, you fool.

After Pleasant comes Humid. Humid is broken into three distinct sub-seasons, all with white skies. The first is The Season in Which it Rains. I hate this season a great deal as it’s too warm to wear a rain coat and I often get to work soaked from the chest down. Give me snow any day. You can play in snow, but you can only sing and dance in the rain, activities I find abhorrent. After The Season in Which it Rains comes Rainy Season which often has no rain at all as it’s defined by a specific weather pattern and not the presence of rain. After Rainy Season is Hell. The Tokyo region is suddenly overwhelmed by waves of heat and humidity and periodic cloudbursts of scalding water and mosquitoes. Once you get sweaty, you are wet all day. If you go inside though, you are instantly frozen because many offices keep their air conditioners set at “Keep Vegetables Crisp” setting. It’s normal to see women and men carrying small blankets to use at work.

Many new English teachers arrive during Hell and immediately start hating the place, and looking for the closest place to get a beer.

After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, there was a government sponsored movement to save energy called “Cool Biz” the purpose of which is to make offices warmer–this is different than “Warm Biz” which is designed to make offices cooler in the winter–but the change from outside to inside can be quite shocking even under Cool Biz.

The drunks, by the way, move to indoor/outdoor beer gardens during Humid.

Humid gives way to Awesome. The change from Humid to Awesome happens abruptly, giving some credence to the notions that 1) Japan is a nation of four distinct seasons and 2) someone in the government actually controls the weather (albeit very badly sometimes).

In Awesome the weather gets cool and dry and the sky slowly turns blue again. You can walk to work without needing to carry hand towels and lots of extra water. But then it gets dry and you have to start drinking more water. The drunks go to the mountains and the parks to see the leaves change.

I just enjoy the cooler weather, and start getting ready for Static by buying wool socks to wear around the house.