Thursday, August 5, 2010

Japan's Four Seasons

For tropical dwellers, the very idea of seasons is fascinating. In particular, we almost always prefer the colder seasons when going on trips - anything but summer since it is summer all year round in Singapore (bleh). Japan's seasons are enchanting, marked prominently by changing foilage and the Japanese find every reason to celebrate each season as it arrives.

Unfortunately, I have yet to experience all four seasons in Japan. Specifically Spring, where the famous Sakura (cherry blossoms) is in full bloom. My friends (lucky bXXXhes!) have raved about how beautiful the Hanami (flower viewing) season is, and I have enviously seen their photos of the gorgeous pink buds. Nevertheless I DO HAVE a photo of the Sakura, taken at the start of winter in Tokyo on the grounds of the Imperial Gardens. It was the strangest sight with only two trees with blooming Sakura, and the rest are dead and bald (as they should be). But for the purpose of this blog, they shall represent Spring (I suppose the trees knew in advance I had to write a blog post on Japan's seasons way back in 2008??? Spiritual trees, you know. :D)

Spring, marked by the start of the Sakura season, usually takes place sometime in April, and it is a time for the people to hold Hanami parties. The Japanese takes the start of Sakura season very seriously, and the weatherman is always reporting on the progress of the famous Sakura viewing spots during this period. Suffice to say, I was already quite impressed with the two cherry blossom trees in Tokyo, and they are not even in peak bloom (when the whole tree is just filled with pink like a gigantic candy floss). I can just imagine how it would be like to be surrounded by streets and streets of flourishing Sakura. Well, you can bet your bottom dollar that I will definitely visit Japan for Sakura someday soon.

My most recent trip to Japan came during the start of summer, and I can safely say for sure that if I ever had a choice, I would avoid visiting Japan in summer completely. As I am blogging, Japan, like much of the Northern Hemisphere, is experiencing a most excruciating heatwave of between 35 to 38 degree celsius, which is even hotter than in Singapore (shudder). Already in June, it was sweltering at 30 to 32 degrees, and that weather was definitely NOT conducive for city exploration if you felt like constantly melting. Even when we ran up to the mountains at Nikko, we could still feel some of the heat, though not as intense. To add insult to injury, June was also a very rainy month, so even though the temperature plummeted on a rainy day, we also couldn't go anywhere in the rain and was just stuck in shopping centres and train stations.

According to my expert friends, summer is only good if you want to go view the lavender fields in Hokkaido. AND if you want to go shopping for clothes. And the daylight is LOOOONG (the sun sets around 8 or 9.) Of course there are also some nice foilage during summer, such as in the pic below, but really, horses couldn't drag me there again for this season.

My favourite season is actually Autumn. It is when the landscape burst into a thousand colours, and you feel like you have been transported into a living painting. The maple trees viewing season in November (leaves start changing in Hokkaido in October), like the Hanami, also sends the locals into a frenzy. Places which are the top maple leaves viewing spots, usually the temples and shrines, will be jam-packed with people trying to take photos and or paint. And just like for the Sakura, the weatherman will be giving dissertations on the correct time to "catch" the maple trees in full glory.

I don't think I will ever get tired of the stunning visuals offered during autumn. Unlike the Sakura season which offers uniform pink or white blossoms, the myriad colours from the changing maple trees are astonishing. Various shades of red, yellow, orange, pink, green - it is like the ultimate visual feast. There are even maple tree light ups at night in certain temples and shrines! To top it off, you get to admire the endless colours in a lovely cool environment, where temperatures normally hover around the early teens. Marvellous!

I have also not visited Japan in the DEEP of winter, so no pictures of snow galore. There was no snow in during my winter visit to Tokyo, so we have just got to make do with a photo of a snow capped Fuji San. ;) But I intend to rectify this with a trip to Hokkaido in winter soon. All said, I always prefer to freeze than to fry, but then again I have not experienced really harsh winters. In Tokyo, temperatures only went down to 0 degrees at night. But I always like the idea of bundling thick comfy clothes around myself (don't have to worry about showing off my figure) and making mists out of every breathe I take. When it gets too cold I like to run into the nearest  ramen restaurant and slurp down the wonderful hot broth, or cradle a tea cup in hand and savouring my macha. That, in essence, is my winter sonata.

Do you have a favourite season? Let me know!

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