The weather and temperatures have fluctuated crazily over the past few weeks, but that is to be expected in March in Japan. They even have a special name for it here: ‘San-kan-shi-on’. The kanji characters look like this: 三寒四温.It literally means three days of cold followed by four warm days. No wonder so many people ‘catch a cold’ during this time of seasonal change.
However, after three months of winter, it’s those occasional warm sunny days that everyone loves and looks forward to each March. This month is a time for welcoming spring, a time of change, and not just with regard to the weather.
Graduation ceremonies and Sayonara parties are held each year in spring. It is the end of the school year, and elementary schools, junior high schools, high schools and universities all celebrate the graduation of senior year students in March. As wonderful as this is it also involves sitting in freezing gymnasiums, the frigid conditions only slightly altered by various kerosene heaters here and there.
More parties are held in April (the beginning of the Japanese school year and working year), to welcome new students, and fresh recruits or office workers who have transferred to their new place of work.
March also has various customs and events that are worth noting. Firstly, every year on the 3rd of March is Hina-matsuri, or Doll’s Festival. This custom has been observed since the Heian period beginning in the eighth century. Platforms covered in red carpet are set up, and on the various tiers of this platform are placed exquisitely crafted dolls, usually representing Heian era figures, from the Emperor and Empress down to their attendants. This day is also referred to as Girl’s Day, but boys can also set up Samurai dolls, ninja figures, and so on.
White Day occurs every March 14, which I alluded to in last month’s blog when referring to Valentine’s Day. In Japan, it is women who give gifts (usually chocolate) on Valentine’s Day, and not just to their boyfriends or lovers, but also their bosses and male colleagues. The favor is then returned on March 14, a day referred to as White Day. Perhaps the chocolate industry, in commercializing these two occasions, invented White Day for men to reciprocate. Regardless of the reason behind it, White Day has become another popular event in Japan.
March 21 is a holiday, and so it should be – it is for Vernal Equinox day (March 20), and a true indication that spring has indeed arrived. Celebrating this event is totally natural, pun intended, and people have been dancing to this occasion since the dawn of time. In Southern Japan, especially Okinawa and Kyushu, as well as the southern parts of Honshu, Cherry Blossoms will appear. The rest of Japan won’t see them until April, or May in Hokkaido further up north. There are even special forecasts in the media about when certain areas can expect ‘full bloom’.
What would spring be without spring break? Many Japanese people are between year levels (in the case of students) or jobs (in the case of workers) and feel free from responsibility like no other time in the year. Thus many Japanese travel at this time, both domestically and internationally, even though it may only be for a few days or a week at most. Within Japan, Okinawa is very popular, and overseas Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong are popular destinations for this short holiday.
As for me, I’m going to get up and head outside…. I can hear the birds singing outside my bedroom window. The sun is shining, the breeze feels warm, and I am starting to feel better already. I’m sure that a bit of spring sunshine is just what I need. Have a great week, take care, and best wishes.