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Japan’s 72 Microseasons
[2015.10.16] Read in: FRANÇAIS | ESPAÑOL | العربية | Русский |

In ancient times the Japanese divided their year into 24 periods based on classical Chinese sources. The natural world comes to life in the even more vividly named 72 subdivisions of the traditional Japanese calendar.

The traditional Japanese calendar marks the passing of the seasons and changes in the natural world through the names given to different times of year. There are 24 major divisions, or sekki, from Risshun (Beginning of spring) in early February until Daikan (Greater cold). Originally taken from Chinese sources, these are still well-known around East Asia.

The 24 divisions are each split again into three for a total of 72 that last around five days each. The names were also originally taken from China, but they did not always match up well with the local climate. In Japan, they were eventually rewritten in 1685 by the court astronomer Shibukawa Shunkai. In their present form, they offer a poetic journey through the Japanese year in which the land awakens and blooms with life and activity before returning to slumber.

The dates in the following table are approximate and may vary by one day depending on the year. There are no standard readings in Japanese for the kanji names of the 72 , so other sources may give different readings.

立春 Risshun (Beginning of spring)
February 4–8 東風解凍
Harukaze kōri o toku
East wind melts the ice
February 9–13 黄鶯睍睆
Kōō kenkan su
Bush warblers start singing in the mountains
February 14–18 魚上氷
Uo kōri o izuru
Fish emerge from the ice
雨水 Usui (Rainwater)
February 19–23 土脉潤起
Tsuchi no shō uruoi okoru
Rain moistens the soil
February 24–28 霞始靆
Kasumi hajimete tanabiku
Mist starts to linger
March 1–5 草木萌動
Sōmoku mebae izuru
Grass sprouts, trees bud
啓蟄 Keichitsu (Insects awaken)
March 6–10 蟄虫啓戸
Sugomori mushito o hiraku
Hibernating insects surface
March 11–15 桃始笑
Momo hajimete saku
First peach blossoms
March 16–20 菜虫化蝶
Namushi chō to naru
Caterpillars become butterflies
春分 Shunbun (Spring equinox)
March 21–25 雀始巣
Suzume hajimete sukū
Sparrows start to nest
March 26–30 櫻始開
Sakura hajimete saku
First cherry blossoms
March 31–April 4 雷乃発声
Kaminari sunawachi koe o hassu
Distant thunder
清明 Seimei (Pure and clear)
April 5–9 玄鳥至
Tsubame kitaru
Swallows return
April 10–14 鴻雁北
Kōgan kaeru
Wild geese fly north
April 15–19 虹始見
Niji hajimete arawaru
First rainbows
穀雨 Kokuu (Grain rains)
April 20–24 葭始生
Ashi hajimete shōzu
First reeds sprout
April 25–29 霜止出苗
Shimo yamite nae izuru
Last frost, rice seedlings grow
April 30–May 4 牡丹華
Botan hana saku
Peonies bloom
立夏 Rikka (Beginning of summer)
May 5–9 蛙始鳴
Kawazu hajimete naku
Frogs start singing
May 10–14 蚯蚓出
Mimizu izuru
Worms surface
May 15–20 竹笋生
Takenoko shōzu
Bamboo shoots sprout
小満 Shōman (Lesser ripening)
May 21–25 蚕起食桑
Kaiko okite kuwa o hamu
Silkworms start feasting on mulberry leaves
May 26–30 紅花栄
Benibana sakau
Safflowers bloom
May 31–June 5 麦秋至
Mugi no toki itaru
Wheat ripens and is harvested
芒種 Bōshu (Grain beards and seeds)
June 6–10 蟷螂生
Kamakiri shōzu
Praying mantises hatch
June 11–15 腐草為螢
Kusaretaru kusa hotaru to naru
Rotten grass becomes fireflies
June 16–20 梅子黄
Ume no mi kibamu
Plums turn yellow
夏至 Geshi (Summer solstice)
June 21–26 乃東枯
Natsukarekusa karuru
Self-heal withers
June 27–July 1 菖蒲華
Ayame hana saku
Irises bloom
July 2–6 半夏生
Hange shōzu
Crow-dipper sprouts
小暑 Shōsho (Lesser heat)
July 7–11 温風至
Atsukaze itaru
Warm winds blow
July 12–16 蓮始開
Hasu hajimete hiraku
First lotus blossoms
July 17–22 鷹乃学習
Taka sunawachi waza o narau
Hawks learn to fly
大暑 Taisho (Greater heat)
July 23–28 桐始結花
Kiri hajimete hana o musubu
Paulownia trees produce seeds
July 29–August 2 土潤溽暑
Tsuchi uruōte mushi atsushi
Earth is damp, air is humid
August 3–7 大雨時行
Taiu tokidoki furu
Great rains sometimes fall
立秋 Risshū (Beginning of autumn)
August 8–12 涼風至
Suzukaze itaru
Cool winds blow
August 13–17 寒蝉鳴
Higurashi naku
Evening cicadas sing
August 18–22 蒙霧升降
Fukaki kiri matō
Thick fog descends
処暑 Shosho (Manageable heat)
August 23–27 綿柎開
Wata no hana shibe hiraku
Cotton flowers bloom
August 28–September 1 天地始粛
Tenchi hajimete samushi
Heat starts to die down
September 2–7 禾乃登
Kokumono sunawachi minoru
Rice ripens
白露 Hakuro (White dew)
September 8–12 草露白
Kusa no tsuyu shiroshi
Dew glistens white on grass
September 13–17 鶺鴒鳴
Sekirei naku
Wagtails sing
September 18–22 玄鳥去
Tsubame saru
Swallows leave
秋分 Shūbun (Autumn equinox)
September 23–27 雷乃収声
Kaminari sunawachi koe o osamu
Thunder ceases
September 28–October 2 蟄虫坏戸
Mushi kakurete to o fusagu
Insects hole up underground
October 3–7 水始涸
Mizu hajimete karuru
Farmers drain fields
寒露 Kanro (Cold dew)
October 8–12 鴻雁来
Kōgan kitaru
Wild geese return
October 13–17 菊花開
Kiku no hana hiraku
Chrysanthemums bloom
October 18–22 蟋蟀在戸
Kirigirisu to ni ari
Crickets chirp around the door
霜降 Sōkō (Frost falls)
October 23–27 霜始降
Shimo hajimete furu
First frost
October 28–November 1 霎時施
Kosame tokidoki furu
Light rains sometimes fall
November 2–6 楓蔦黄
Momiji tsuta kibamu
Maple leaves and ivy turn yellow
立冬 Rittō (Beginning of winter)
November 7–11 山茶始開
Tsubaki hajimete hiraku
Camellias bloom
November 12–16 地始凍
Chi hajimete kōru
Land starts to freeze
November 17–21 金盞香
Kinsenka saku
Daffodils bloom
小雪 Shōsetsu (Lesser snow)
November 22–26 虹蔵不見
Niji kakurete miezu
Rainbows hide
November 27–December 1 朔風払葉
Kitakaze konoha o harau
North wind blows the leaves from the trees
December 2–6 橘始黄
Tachibana hajimete kibamu
Tachibana citrus tree leaves start to turn yellow
大雪 Taisetsu (Greater snow)
December 7–11 閉塞成冬
Sora samuku fuyu to naru
Cold sets in, winter begins
December 12–16 熊蟄穴
Kuma ana ni komoru
Bears start hibernating in their dens
December 17–21 鱖魚群
Sake no uo muragaru
Salmons gather and swim upstream
冬至 Tōji (Winter solstice)
December 22–26 乃東生
Natsukarekusa shōzu
Self-heal sprouts
December 27–31 麋角解
Sawashika no tsuno otsuru
Deer shed antlers
January 1–4 雪下出麦
Yuki watarite mugi nobiru
Wheat sprouts under snow
小寒 Shōkan (Lesser cold)
January 5–9 芹乃栄
Seri sunawachi sakau
Parsley flourishes
January 10–14 水泉動
Shimizu atataka o fukumu
Springs thaw
January 15–19 雉始雊
Kiji hajimete naku
Pheasants start to call
大寒 Daikan (Greater cold)
January 20–24 款冬華
Fuki no hana saku
Butterburs bud
January 25–29 水沢腹堅
Kiwamizu kōri tsumeru
Ice thickens on streams
January 30–February 3 鶏始乳
Niwatori hajimete toya ni tsuku
Hens start laying eggs

(Banner photo: Autumn comes to Hibiya Park, Tokyo.)

  • [2015.10.16]
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