One of the things I am really enjoying about living in Japan is re-discovering my love of and respect for the seasons, which had faltered somewhat due to various stressors and, frankly, living in Sydney which doesn’t really have them. The seasons are celebrated here with gusto! Throughout the year there are various religious festivals (matsuris) both national and local, usually based at a particular shrine or temple where the Kami in question is reverenced. Seasonal festivals, like Natsu (Summer) Matsuri which we celebrated in Gifu, are some of the biggest.
The map featured, from Japan Guide.com, forecasts the turning of the leaves all over Japan and are available at websites for the Japanese not just for western tourists looking for views. People will plan holidays or onsen weekends around soaking in the beauty of the turning of the leaves or man’s attempts at controlling the snow and communities around the country will celebrate their local (usually rice) harvest. Similar maps are available in Spring for the Hanami or cherry blossom viewing which is a HUGE celebration.
Melbourne, where I grew up, has its seasons but they are pretty much ignored beyond whether to bring a brolly or a coat (and boy do we know how to read a forecast). The joke, of course, is four seasons in one day but it’s really only true if you consider that getting a little cool and a little rain on a Summer day constitutes winter-like. As I understand it, the local indigenous population consider that Melbourne has six seasons and I can kind of see that (and wish I could find out more but it’s really, really hard.) The only hint of seasonal celebrations that come to the general awareness of the Australian populous are Easter and Yule though, of course, in their Christian form and they are actually at the time of Harvest and mid-Summer in the Sthn Hemisphere anyway. (Yes, I know that the non-Christian elements are still hugely strong within those festivals but that doesn’t mean those of us who are Caucasian and not “of the book” can celebrate openly – calling it Yule, for example, is only acceptable if it’s assumed I’m using the German term lol.)
The cynical (or those offended by the fact that I’ve just revealed I don’t hold Judeo-Christian views 🙂 ) will remind me how commercial the festivals seem – Hanami particularly with companies competing for the best spots and it being very much “the thing” to do rather than being focused on which Kami is being celebrated. They will point out that the change of the seasons for most people just means new flavours of drinks and snacks in the konbini or changing wardrobes. Well to that I say: Shenanigans!
First of all, if they know that Summer is being celebrated then they know which Kami is being celebrated and frankly it’s kinda hard to miss. Secondly, those new flavours are seasonal flavours (watermelon kitkat in Summer and apple breath mints in Autumn, how much more harvesty can you get than apples!) being aware of the earth in your every day life is an acknowledgement of the Kami (however you want to define them, I find the similarities to Platonic Forms extraordinary) that effect it. Changing your clothes to warmer ones because its cold is a reverence to the seasons at the most basic level and possibly more so when there’s little need to change clothes beyond your coat with heating available indoors. But that’s me getting all kitchen-witchy on you so from a more traditionally western “religious” oogity-boogity framework I say: look at the excitement on the faces of the people in their Yukatas on the way to the fireworks. Listen to the laughter and awed “Sugoi!” at the art form that is man’s attempt at mastery over fire. The smile elicited by the sheer beauty of a cherry blossom or the colour of a leaf. That is real emotion, whatever the affectations of the day to please your boss or your boyfriend, and that is the essence of all this – opening yourself to the rhythms of the earth. Even if they only do it once a season, they come together and allow themselves to be effected by the extraordinary beauty and power of this planet which, no matter how much we learn, can still shake us off its back with a good earthquake.
Whether the Japanese population flocking (and boy do they flock) to the many matsuris and enjoying the food and carnival atmosphere are intellectually cognizant of exactly what is being celebrated doesn’t really matter to me (though frankly I think most of them are). It does a heathen girl good to be able to look ahead to at least a whole year in which she can celebrate by simply joining in with an entire nation!