Seasons in Japanese

Explore the sights and sounds of the four seasons in Japan.

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By Ayako Sasso · February 29, 2024 · 10 minute read

With its four distinct and colorful seasons, learning how to talk about the seasons in Japanese is a must for anyone wanting to visit Japan or learning to speak Japanese. Each season is not only unique in terms of the weather, but also in terms of culture, with many significant seasonal events and festivals.

In this article, we’ll cover useful vocabulary and fun facts concerning the Japanese seasons, along with some cultural aspects of each season. So whether you are planning to visit Japan or simply desire to hold a conversation with your Japanese friends, you are in the right place!

Basic vocabulary for Japanese seasons

Are you ready to expand your vocabulary and knowledge in Japanese as we go through all the seasons? First take a look at the table below to learn the basic words for seasons in Japanese.

Basic words for seasons

English Rōmaji Hiragana Kanji
Season Kisetsu きせつ 季節
Four seasons Shiki しき 四季
Spring Haru はる
Summer Natsu なつ
Autumn or Fall Aki あき
Winter Fuyu ふゆ

Now that you know how to refer to the seasons in Japanese, it’s time to explore each season in more detail.

Spring (haru): Sakura season in Japanese

What comes to your mind when you think of the Japanese spring?

It’s no surprise if the first thing that comes to mind is the cherry blossoms, or sakura (さくら), right? It’s probably safe to say that everyone has seen some sort of iconic view of the blooming of cherry blossoms, whether in a movie, magazine or on social media. The word sakura is also one of the well-known words for non-Japanese. The Japanese cherry blossom season is surely something special for us.

But why are Japanese so fanatical about sakura (さくら)? Aside from their beauty, cherry blossoms symbolize new beginnings. After the cold winter, the blooming of beautiful cherry blossoms is a welcoming signal of the arrival of the most anticipated season.

The school year and business year in Japan start in April, and thus sakura season in Japan also marks a ‘new year’ in Japan. If we look deep into the heart and soul of Japanese people, cherry blossoms also symbolize the uncertain or temporary nature of life, as cherry blossoms only last a week or two. We appreciate its blooming so much more when we recognize how nothing is permanent or how loss is unavoidable. Quite poetic, right?

Japanese people tend to go on hanami with family and friends – hanami literally translates to ‘flower-watching.’ So when the sakura are blooming, you will find many people in parks, enjoying the view of the sakura alongside their family and friends.

Viewing cherry blossoms at night, called Yozakura ( よざくら ), can be another way of enjoying the season, as the view of whitish-pink petals lighting up in the dark night is magical.

Oh, and we can’t forget about the ‘sakura forecast’ either, called sakura yosō ( さくらよそう ). The ‘sakura forecast’ will tell you the timing of the ‘cherry blossom front’ known as sakura zensen ( さくらぜんせん ). This is the movement of the sakura from the south to north, indicating in which areas we can enjoy the view of the cherry blossoms.

Although cherry blossoms may get most of the attention during this season, we also have a special doll festival called hinamatsuri ( ひなまつり ). This takes place on the third of March, celebrating the growth of girls by displaying dolls called hinaningyō ( ひなにんぎょう ) and having the traditional spring treat, sakura mochi ( さくらもち ).

Can you feel the exciting vibe of the spring season in Japan? Below is a quick checklist of vocabulary for spring.

Spring-related words in Japanese

English Rōmaji Hiragana Kanji
Cherry blossoms Sakura さくら
Flower Hana はな
Cherry blossom viewing Hanami はなみ 花見
Night viewing of cherry blossoms Yozakura よざくら 夜桜
Doll Festival or Girls’ Festival Hina matsuri ひなまつり 雛祭り
Japanese treat made of mochi and red bean paste filling Sakuramochi さくらもち 桜餅
New school year Shingakki しんがっき 新学期

Summer (natsu): Japanese festivals in summer

Summer in Japan is characterized not only by intense sunshine and high temperatures, but more so by the very high humidity levels. However, don’t assume that you can’t enjoy a variety of activities during this season!

Typically, people take a bit of a break from work during obon ( おぼん) season. Obon is a traditional custom or event to honor the spirits of one’s ancestors. It is a very important holiday, as families get together to feel a connection to their lost relatives and honor their passing.

Although it is not an official public holiday, many take time off to return to their hometown during this period. Obon dates can differ depending on the region or prefecture. The most popular period is around mid-August.

Obon is not the only festival during the summer season in Japan. There are summer festivals across Japan that take place from July to August. These summer festivals are called natsu matsuri ( なつまつり), where you can enjoy night walks in your favorite summer kimono, or yukata ( ゆかた), and watch fireworks, or hanabi ( はなび ).

Fireworks events are held along rivers and at beaches. Seeing everyone gathered in these areas, looking up at the night sky, and patiently waiting for the start of the fireworks is an experience in itself!

The table below has some words you can use to talk about summer in Japanese.

Summer-related words in Japanese

English Rōmaji Hiragana Kanji
Holiday Yasumi やすみ 休み
Festival Matsuri まつり 祭り
Japanese custom to remember ancestors Obon or bon おぼん/ ぼん お盆
A summer kimono Yukata ゆかた 浴衣
Fireworks Hanabi はなび 花火
River Kawa かわ
Ocean or sea Umi うみ

Autumn (aki): How to talk about fall in Japanese

In the fall, the temperature starts to get more pleasant. The sight of leaves changing color is spectacular! Similar to how we enjoy hanami (cherry blossom viewing) in spring, we also enjoy watching the change of the autumn leaves, known as kōyō ( こうよう). They are just as stunning as sakura (cherry blossoms) in springtime.

Autumn in Japan is also the season of harvest. Imagine the taste of freshly picked seasonal fruits and vegetables! A wide range of fruits, or kudamono (くだもの ), and vegetables, or yasai(やさい), are harvested during autumn. The most important food for Japanese people – rice – is harvested during this season as well.

There are lots of eating- and food-related phrases associated with autumn. They come almost like ‘catch phrases’ to people's minds, such as shokuyoku no aki ( 食欲の秋 ), which means ‘appetite of autumn,’ or aki no mikaku ( 秋の味覚 ), a well-known phrase meaning ‘taste or delicacy of autumn.’

If you have a chance to visit some farms, you can enjoy grape picking, called budō gari ( ぶどうがり), pear picking, called nashi gari ( なしがり), or mushroom picking, called kinoko gari ( きのこがり). Kari and gari mean ‘hunting’ in Japanese, so direct translation of these words would be ‘grape hunting,’ ‘pear hunting’ and ‘mushroom hunting.’

Refer to the table below for some words related to autumn in Japanese.

Autumn-related words in Japanese

English Rōmaji Hiragana Kanji
Autumn-colored leaves Kōyō こうよう 紅葉
Fruit Kudamono くだもの 果物
Vegetables Yasai やさい 野菜
Grape Budō ぶどう 葡萄
Mushroom Kinoko きのこ
Hunting Kari or gari かり / がり 狩り

Want to learn more about Japanese culture?

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Winter (fuyu): The Japanese skiing season

If you go up north to Hokkaido, you will find snow, or yuki ( ゆき ), almost everywhere. Every year, in the first to second week of February, is the Sapporo Snow Festival, or Sapporo Yuki Matsuri ( さっぽろゆきまつり ). It is one of the biggest Japanese festivals in winter. The display of snow and ice sculptures along the main street in Sapporo city is spectacular and attracts lots of visitors every year.

If you are not a ski person or you are someone who would rather stay away from the cold, you can enjoy a variety of hot pot dishes, called Nabe ryōri or o-nabe ( なべりょうり / おなべ ), at home or at a restaurant of your choice to warm yourself up.

Traditionally on New Year’s Eve – ōmisoka ( おおみそか) – Japanese practice a tradition of eating buckwheat noodles called soba ( そば ) for good luck and longevity. This is because soba noodles are long, and so it is believed that soba noodles symbolize a long life!

And the following day, we welcome the new year, or o-shōgatu ( おしょうがつ), by sharing a special dish called osechi ( おせち ) with families and relatives. The osechi plate or box is filled with colorful dishes, each with its own meaning for good luck.

Also, if you happen to be in Japan at New Year’s, why not participate in the traditional custom of hatsumōde ( はつもうで ), the first shrine visit of the year? It is considered to provide you good luck for the year to come!

Let’s have a quick look at some words for discussing winter in Japanese in the table below.

Winter-related words in Japanese

English Rōmaji Hiragana Kanji
Snow Yuki ゆき
Snow Festival Yukimatsuri ゆきまつり 雪祭り
Hot pot dish Nabe なべ
Buckwheat noodles Soba そば 蕎麦
New Year’s Eve Ōmisoka おおみそか 大晦日
The new year Oshōgatsu or shōgatsu おしょうがつ /しょうがつ 正月
New Year’s dish Osechi おせち 御節
The first shrine visit of the year Hatsumōde はつもうで 初詣

Japanese rainy season: The most hated season?

We haven’t yet talked about the Japanese rainy season, which normally falls in June, the beginning of summer. The rainy season is called tsuyu ( つゆ ) and is not exactly an anticipated season. You will most likely need an umbrella, or kasa ( かさ ), every day, but there are still attractive sights to visit all over Japan.

During this season, thanks to the rain, the hydrangea flowers, called ajisai ( あじさい ), are beautifully blooming in Japanese gardens. There are many famous hydrangea garden spots worth visiting.

For some skilled photographers, it can be a unique opportunity to take some cool photos. You can take more photogenic shots in the rain, especially of traditional buildings in old towns and villages. Visiting museums and indoor tourist spots is also a good choice, as you can probably avoid crowds.

Wrapping up the Japanese seasons

No matter what the season, Japan will always have something to fascinate you. From cherry blossoms in the spring to summertime festivals, from the autumn harvest to the winter snows, the changing seasons present a never-ending parade of natural and cultural attractions to draw you to this beautiful place.

If you are looking forward to visiting Japan, why not start learning the basics of the language and unique culture before your visit? Surely your trip will be a more exciting one!

Want to learn more about the seasons in Japan?

Continue learning more about Japanese seasons and vocabulary via Busuu's free online courses and learning resources!