From the falling of the leaves to the blooming of the cherry blossoms, the seasons in Japan are rooted very deep within the culture. Depending on when you visit Japan, the flavor you experience will vary. That’s not just to speak of the cuisine, but of many different aspects of daily life. The seasons dictate which activities we can best enjoy, which foods are available, and how we we can plan our day-to-day activities. If you, your friends, or your family are planning a trip to Japan, consider which season will mesh well with your plans and what you are looking to experience on your trip.
While the seasons in the west seem to be dominated by the holidays, in Japan, it tends to be the other way around. The seasons reflect not just in nature, but in everything from your experience at the onsen to the food selection available on most major menus. Each season brings with it its own delicacies to remind you of its own taste and feeling. And while major retail holidays, like Halloween and Christmas, are now bigger in Japan than ever before, they still take a back seat to the seasons themselves.
Japan in Autumn
As Halloween candies and decorations slowly start to appear on store shelves and at people’s homes, we can feel the ushering in of the fall season. That holds true especially if you happen to live in an area not prone to much weather change. Seasons in Japan on the other hand, don’t need to rely so heavily on that retail push for the public to feel their presence. Even if you look beyond the red and purple leaves and that dip in degrees, you’ll just feel it. It could be the scent of satsuma imo (Japanese sweet potato) or the fresh pumpkin chestnut muffins at the bakery down the street, but the autumn season certainly has a jump on Halloween.
While October 1st in Japan will make the start of Halloween in the retail world, it’s presence isn’t as in-your-face as it may feel back in your home country. Autumn is often associated with events like the sport’s festival at public schools throughout Japan, the rice harvest, and fishing for sanma (Pacific saury). In fact, according to Minna no Ranking AKA Ranking.net, Sanma is the quintessential food of fall in Japan, coming in at number one on their list, with chestnuts, satsuma imo, and pumpkin coming in right after.
Japan in Winter
When you ponder over the seasons in Japan, what comes to mind when you think of the winter? Do you imagine vast forests frozen over, or does the Japanese macaque (snow monkey) soaking in a hot spring come to mind? I think for me, it’s the Sapporo snow festival in Hokkaido that does it, and while I’ve yet to see it, I still long to go there someday. Other popular events include the winter illuminations found throughout Japan, as well as the Sumo wrestling tournament that occurs each year in January.
If you had to guess what is the number one winter fruit in Japan, do you think you could do it? It might not be what you think. I myself was surprised to learn that the biggest winter fruit in Japan is oranges. And here I always considered oranges a summer fruit. In fact, oranges rank number three for the top three winter foods in Japan, with Oysters coming in at number one and crab at number two.
One last thing to consider about winter is if you visit Japan at the end of the year, you get to experience Oshogatsu (New Year’s), a fun time to spend with family or friends, and enjoy Japanese tradition foods like osechi, a type of Japanese bento, with various foods of the new year!
Japan in Spring
T. S. Eliot once wrote “April is the cruelest month,” but he had never visited Japan. The image of spring in Japan is often associated with the cherry blossoms blooming and fresh budding romances. When thinking about the seasons in Japan, does anything come to mind for you?
For me, it’s always been sakura mochi, or pounded rice flavored with cherry blossoms. The first time I heard of it was watching a Japanese cartoon back in elementary school, and back then, I didn’t know what to make of it. I can tell you know though, that I can never get enough. And I’m surprised to learn that sakura mochi only ranks in at number six for foods associated with spring in Japan. According to Nifty News, the top three foods are bamboo shoots, nanohana (Japanese broccoli), and taranoki (Japanese angelica tree). Those wouldn’t have been my guesses either.
Popular spring events in Japan include hanami, or the practice of viewing the blooming cherry blossoms. This is common is popular areas, such as Yoyogi Park in Tokyo, where you can see loads of people from the wee early hours trying to reserve as much space for their picnics as possible. Other popular events include camping (there’s a big camping boom in Japan lately), and strawberry picking (the number one winter fruit in Japan).
Japan in Summer
There’s no denying that August can be the most brutal month in Japan, usually topping off around 35°C (95°F). The good news is summer is one of the few times you can hike Mt. Fuji. If you visit in July, Tanabata usually occurs on July 7th. Other popular activities include wearing yukata, BBQs, camping, fireworks, and chilling by the beach. If you’re like me and the heat isn’t your thing, exploring the underground shopping malls of Tokyo and Osaka is also an option.
Like all the other seasons in Japan, summer has its own special food. If oranges are a winter fruit, what do you suppose summer fruit is? This time the answer should be a little less surprising, as according to Kurashino Ranking, watermelon is the number one summer food.
If you consume a lot of manga or anime, perhaps you are familiar with those scenes of characters splitting a watermelon open while blindfolded with a stick? That’s really a thing, so give it go next time you visit. Coming up right behind watermelon is peaches at number two, and corn at number three. Not what I expected, but certainly a snack I can enjoy on those hot days.
Flavors of Japan
Throughout the year, you’ll have the opportunity to experience the four seasons in Japan and see which flavor is to your liking. Some of you may dig the dig the summer and some of us will always be fall guys, but you’ll need to make a call and come check it out for yourself. Think over not just what you want to do in Japan, but also how you want to experience it. Personally, if you’ve never visited before, I think the spring is the perfect time. Take in the sun without the heat, experience the sakura in bloom, and discover a whole new you.