When a foreigner asks how many seasons there are in Japan, the most common response is four: spring, summer, fall, and winter. But, did you know that Japan has 24 major seasons with 72 microseasons?
Yes, the Japanese calendar is divided into 24 major divisions that mark the passing of each season. Spring, summer, fall, and winter are split into 24 distinct seasons (sekki) from the beginning of spring (risshun) in the early February to the beginning of the greater cold (daikan) in the late January. But, these 24 major divisions are further split into three microseasons each making it a total of 72 microseasons (ko) with each lasting for about five days. These divisions were adopted from the classical Chinese calendar and are perhaps still very popular in the East Asian region.
While each name given to different seasons in a year were also originally adopted from the Chinese, the names of these microseasons do not always match with Japan’s local climate. Thus, in 1685, the court astronomer Shibukawa Shunkai proposed that the names of each microseason should be rewritten. However, there are no standard kanji readings for each name of the 72 microseasons. Other sources may give a different kanji reading.
Today, as the seasons change in the natural world they also serve as a poetic inspiration for Japanese describing how the land is awakened and blooms with a new life before returning to a deep sleep. Take for example how poetry is expressed in early spring (risshun) from each microseason. Harukaze kori o toku (East wind melts the ice) starts on February 4 until February 8, but the date may vary depending on the year. By February 9-13, this marks a new microseason called koo kenkan su (Bush warblers start singing in the mountains) and on February 14-18, this is the beginning for uo kori o izuru (fish emerge from the ice).
Here are the 72 microseasons of Japan that you can also use as a guide when visiting Japan.