72 Seasons

In many parts of the world we separate the year into four seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter.  Each season is determined by the earth’s exposure to the sun.

The ancient Chinese recognized the need to create a more nuanced calendar that would be helpful to their agrarian based society.  Thus, the Chinese created a calendar with 24 segments based on both lunar and solar events.

Then, in 1685, the 24 season Chinese calendar was rewritten by the Japanese astronomer Shibukawa Shunkai and it became 72 season.  The 72 seasons “offer a poetic journey through the Japanese year in which the land awakens and blooms with life and activity before returning to slumber.”(1) Each micro-season is a recognition of the constant movement of the natural world.  Spring isn’t just spring, but it is the time for Sparrows to Nest, and First Cherry Blossoms.  It is also  the time for Distant Thunder and Swallows Returning.  It is so much more than just spring, it is a symphony of change.

Below is a list of the mini and micro seasons that make up this celebration of the natural world. There are also links to the relevant posts that found on NaturalistWeekly.com. This index of relevant post and observations will continue to grow as we continue to notice the subtle changes all around us.


First Spring: February 4 – February 18

  • Spring Winds Thaw the Ice (Feb 4 – Feb 8)
  • The Nightingale Sings (Feb 9 – Feb 13)
  • Fish Rise From the Ice (Feb 14 – Feb 18)

Rain Water: February 19 – March 4

  • The Earth Becomes Damp (Feb 19 – Feb 23)
  • Haze First Covers the Sky (Feb 24 – Feb 28)
  • Plants Show Their First Buds (Mar 01-Mar 04)

Awakening of Insects: March 05 – March 19

  • Hibernating Creatures Open Their Doors (Mar 05 -Mar 09)
  • The First Peach Blossoms (Mar 10 – Mar 14)
  • Leaf Insects Turn Into Butterflies (Mar 15 -Mar 19)

Spring Equinox: March 20 – April 03

  • The Sparrow Builds Her Nest (Mar 20 -Mar 24)
  • The First Cherry Blossoms (Mar 25 – Mar 29)
  • Thunder Raises its Voice (Mar 30 – Apr 03)

Clear and Bright: April 04 – April 19

  • The Swallows Arrive (Apr 04 – Apr 08)
  • Geese Fly North (Apr 09 – Apr 13)
  • The First Rainbow Appears (Apr 14 -Apr 19)

Grain Rain: April 20 -May 04

  • The First Reeds Grow (Apr 20 – Apr 24)
  • The Frost Stops the Rice Grows (Apr 25 -Apr 29)
  • The Tree Peony Flowers (Apr 30 – May 04)

First Summer: May 05 – May 20

  • The First Frog Call (May 05 – May 09)
  • The Earth Worm Rise (May 10 – May 14)
  • Bamboo Shoots Appear (May 15 – May 20)

Grain Full: May 21 – June 04

  • The Silk Worm Awakes and Eats the Mulberry (May 21 – May 25)
  • The Safflower Blossoms (May 26 – May 30)
  • The Time for Wheat (May 31 – June 04)

Grain in Ear: June 05 – June 20

  • The Praying Mantis Hatches (Jun 05 – Jun 09)
  • Fireflies Rise from the Rotten Grass (Jun 10 – Jun 15)
  • The Plums Turn Yellow (Jun 16 – Jun 20)

Summer Solstice: June 21 – July 06

  • The Common Self-Heal Dries (Jun 21 – Jun 25)
  • The Iris Flowers (Jun 26 – Jun 30)
  • The Crow-dipper Sprouts (Jul 01 – Jul 06)

Minor Heat: July 07 – July 21

  • Hot Winds Blow (Jul 07 – Jul 11)
  • The First Lotus Blossoms (Jul 12 – Jul 16)
  • The Young Hawk Learns to Fly (Jul 17 – Jul 21)

Major Heat: July 22 – August 06

  • The First Paulownia Fruit Ripen (Jul 22 -Jul 27)
  • Damp Earth Humid Heat (Jul 28 – Aug 01)
  • Heavy Rain Showers (Aug 02 – Aug 06)

First Autumn: August 07 – August 22

  • A Cool Wind Blows (Aug 07 – Aug 11)
  • The Evening Cicada Sings (Aug 12 – Aug 16)
  • Thick Fog Blankets the Sky (Aug 17 – Aug 22)

Limit of Heat: August 23 – September 06

  • The Cotton Lint Opens (Aug 23 – Aug 27)
  • Earth and Sky Begins to Cool (Aug 28 – Sep 01)
  • The Rice Ripens (Sep 02 – Sep 06)

White Dew: September 07 – September 21

  • White Dew on the Grass (Sep 07 – Sep 11)
  • The Wagtail Call (Sep 12 – Sep 16)
  • The Swallows Leave (Sep 17 – Sep 21)

Autumn Equinox: September 22 – October 07

  • Thunder Lowers its Voice (Sep 22 -Sep 27)
  • Hibernating Creatures Close their Doors (Sep 28 – Oct 02)
  • The Paddy Water is First Drained (Oct 03 – Oct 07)

Cold Dew: October 08 – October 22

  • The Geese Arrive (Oct 08 – Oct 12)
  • The Chrysanthemum Flowers (Oct 13 – Oct 17)
  • The Grasshopper Sings (Oct 18 – Oct 22)

Frost Descent: October 23 – November 07

  • The First Frost Falls (Oct 23 – Oct 27)
  • Light Rain Showers (Oct 28 – Nov 01)
  • The Maple and the Ivy Turn Yellow (Nov 02 – Nov 07)

First Winter: November 08 -November 12

  • The First Camellia Blossoms (Nov 08 – Nov 12)
  • The Earth First Freezes (Nov 13 – Nov 17)
  • The Daffodil Flowers (Nov 18 – Nov 22)

Minor Snow: November 23 -December 06

  • The Rainbow Hides Unseen (Nov 23 – Nov 27)
  • The North Wind Brushes the Leaves (Nov 28 – Dec 01)
  • The Tachibana First Turns Yellow (Dec 02 – Dec 06)

Major Snow: December 07 – December 21

  • The Sky is Cold, Winter Comes (Dec 07 – Dec 11)
  • The Bear Retreats to its Den (Dec 12 – Dec 16)
  • The Salmon Gather to Spawn (Dec 17 – Dec 21)

Winter Solstice: December 22 – January 05

  • The Common Self-Heal Sprouts (Dec 22 -Dec 26)
  • The Elk Sheds its Horns (Dec 27 – Dec 31)
  • Beneath the Snow the Wheat Sprouts (Jan 01 – Jan 05)

Minor Cold: January 06 – January 10

  • The Water Dropwort Flourishes (Jan 06 – Jan 10)
  • The Springwater Holds Warmth (Jan 11 – Jan 15)
  • The Pheasant First Calls (Jan 16 – Jan 20)

Major Cold: January 11 – February 03

  • The Giant Butterbur Flowers (Jan 21 – Jan 24)
  • The Mountain Stream Freezes Over (Jan 25 – Jan 29)
  • The Chicken Lays Her First Eggs (Jan 30 – Feb 03)

You may notice that some of these seasons will not coincide with your particular location. That is because the original 24 seasons were based on the climate of Northern China.

China has the largest climate difference of a single country. Northern China is further unique because of influence of the cold Siberian winds in the winter, and warmer southern tropical winds in the summer. (2)

Japan is also a country with a wide variety of climates. The Sea of Japan and the northern mountains give rise to a range of weather from heavy snow in north, to subtropical weather in the southern islands of Okinawa and Amami. What this means is that this calendar will not work for all places in Japan.

The challenge is then not to say that this calendar doesn’t work for me. But instead ask how can I use this calendar and its season to help me increase my awareness of the world around me. Can these micro-seasons increase my knowledge of not only my local environment, but my relationship to the global environment? Because it is when we begin to see the interconnected nature of all things, we can begin to cherish, and take care of, the things that sustain human life.


Resources

  1. Nippon.com: Japan’s 72 MicroSeasons
  2. 10 Facts You Should Know About China’s Weather

If you would like another way to engage in the micro-seasons there is an app called 72-Seasons.  This app “brings you photographs, illustrations, haiku poems and words based on the poetic names of the seasons, each of which depicts a subtle change in the natural world throughout the year.”  It is really well done and worth a look if you want to deepen your connection to the seasons. 

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