In the Japanese world view, all natural and social events are fully savored and take on their proper meaning only in the context of the season. This sence of season is a perception of temporal flow and the rhythms of nature that forms the ground from which life derives meaning.
The Japanese attitude toward the seasons is most clearly seen in the haiku, Japan`s distinctive poetic form of seventeen syllables. Haiku conventions require each concise verse to contain a seasonal theme that evokes the background for the two specific images presented and that expands their meaning beyond the particular. At the same time, the moment caught by those images should reveal something fresh and unexpected about the season itself. The interplay between the seasonal theme and the specific images makes the season simultaneously the wider context of the poem`s meaning and its subject.
The use of the seasons as the essential context for the specific events is so deeply rooted an aspect of Japanese
culture that Japanese often comment on how unique their country is in having four distinct seasons, a statement that leaves visitors from other temperate regions speechless or puzzled. The Japanese attitude is not arrogance or ignorance. While there is nothing remarkable about having four seasons, they are certainly experienced different in Japan.
Seasonal signs are egerly noted. This includes not only the arrival of the first bush warbler in spring or the turning of the maple leaves in fall, but humbler signs of cyclical change – wild grasses sprouting, mackerel glistening in the fish market, the sound of wooden clogs modulating from a brisk clack on winter`s frozen earth to a gentler clopping in spring. The changing length of the day is, of course, a significant seasonal marker, but so are shadows, which change in length and blackness according to the time of the year. An attenuated February shadow defines the season and mood quite specifically in Japan.
With this detailed observation of the seasons comes their introduction into daily life. The foods served and their preparation are adjusted to the season, so much so that cookbooks are often organized by season. A dish strongly associated with one season, as one-pot stews are with winter, is almost inedible out of its proper season. Similarly, Japanese cooks have a strong preference for fresh vegetables in season. Frozen and canned vegetables, with their bland lack of seasonality, have little place in most Japanese kitchens.
Clothing, too, is changed with the seasons, not only to keep the wearer comfortable but to create a sense of seasonal awareness. Those who follow this custom too strictly may be seen sweating in fur coats on a balmy day designated as the first day of winter according to the calendar.
Not only people but also houses done different coverings with the turn of seasons. The greatest contrast in interior furnishings are between summer and winter – between displays of airy coolness and cozy warmth – but smaller seasonal adjustments are made constantly in the choice of paintings displayed, dishes used, flowers arranged, and ornaments on view.
Celebrations and festivals, whether New Year`s or Boy`s Day, are also closely associated with their respective seasons, a linkage heightened by incorporating seasonal foods and decorations from nature into the festivities. Many of Japan`s festivals originated in rites observed at critical points in the agricultural cycle, which is no doubt a source of their focus on nature.