seasons in japanese

Spring into Fluency with the 4 Seasons in Japanese

Summer has hit Japan and I can feel my insides boiling already.

The summers here (especially in Kyushu, the southernmost island) are famously humid. They’re uncomfortable, to say the least.

But, they’re also helpful. Let me show you why!

Each season in Japan brings with it particular vocabulary and phrases. You rarely use these words outside of the season.

So, while it may be blazing hot in Japan, I have the opportunity to use words I haven’t used all year!

My skin is melting off my bones, but I get to peel back even more layers of Japanese fluency.

How can you use the seasons to speak more naturally?

Seasons make for the perfect small talk. Use them to boost your conversational skills and learn more about Japanese culture.

And, if you’re planning a trip to Japan, you’ll need to be familiar with each season’s weather and activities.

Ready to learn about Japanese seasons? Let’s get started!

3 Tips for Learning the Seasons in Japanese

1. Start with what motivates you.

It’s important to start with what you like whenever you’re learning. For example, choose your favorite season and begin your studies with related vocab. If you’re not a winter person but you love the summer, then start with fun summer vocabulary. If you enjoy what you’re learning, you’re more likely to stick with it—and to remember it!

2. Observe seasonal words and phrases used in authentic contexts.

seasons in japanese

Since language is all about context, make it a priority to listen to seasonal vocab being used in the real world. You can take advantage of a program like FluentU, which has a large content library and other cool resources, like flashcards, vocab lists and quizzes.

FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

Each video comes with interactive captions so you can tap on words to look them up and see them used in additional videos. This is a great way to memorize seasonal and other vocabulary in Japanese!

3. Talk to a native speaker.

Once you’ve got a few words and phrases under your belt, it’s time to actually use them! You can find a language exchange partner by using an online site like MyLanguageExchange.com. Try not to worry too much about making mistakes when talking to your language partner. Instead, focus on incorporating specific phrases into your dialogue, and prioritize fluency (being understood and having your speech flow) over accuracy (being grammatically correct).

Now that we’ve covered how to practice Japanese seasonal vocab, it’s time to dig into the actual words and phrases!

Spring into Fluency with the 4 Seasons in Japanese

Let Your Vocab Bloom with Spring: 春 (はる)

Overview

Spring is generally equated to cherry blossoms in Japan. They’re transient in nature, only blooming for a short period of time until they finally float away from the tree. Many say that this is what makes the flowers beautiful.

The transient nature of cherry blossoms relates to spring events too. People end relationships, move away, graduate, start new jobs, enter new relationships, etc. Essentially, spring represents change. With that in mind, here are some spring-related vocab and traditions to help your Japanese bloom like the cherry blossoms.

Food and festivals

One of my favorite foods to eat during spring is (たい) — red snapper. It’s delicious, and its name forms part of the word for lucky (おめでたい). Combine that with the fact that the city I live in (Itoshima) has the highest quantity of fished red snapper and you can see why I enjoy it so much. They even put it in ramen down here!

The sweetness of fresh air and the beautiful colors of cherry blossoms are reflected in Japanese confectionery as well. 桜餅 (さくらもち) — sakuramochi encapsulates the spirit of spring in a tight ball of chewy delight. It’s a sweet rice cake with red bean paste that’s wrapped in a cherry blossom leaf. It’s weird to think you’re eating flower-flavored food, but it grows on you!

Related words and phrases

Here’s a list of words to help you embrace spring:

  • (はる): spring
  • (さくら): cherry blossoms
  • 花見 (はなみ): cherry-blossom viewing party
  • 桜餅 (さくらもち): sakuramochi (Japanese confectionery with a cherry blossom leaf on the outside and red bean paste on the inside)
  • 抹茶 (まっちゃ): a bitter, green tea usually paired with Japanese confectioneries
  • (たい): red snapper
  • おめでたい: lucky
  • ちょうどいい: just right (referring to the weather/temperature)

Now that the fleeting petals of the cherry blossoms have fallen, let’s move on to warmer days.

Take a Language Dive into Summer: 夏 (なつ)

Overview

I remember the first summer I spent in Kyoto, a valley region notorious for its heavy humidity. I learned the word for hot, very hot, outrageously hot and “What is this?!” kind of hot.

Though summer is hot and humid, it’s a season filled with fun things to do and experience. And, there are plenty of places further north in Japan that have milder summer weather. You could also opt for a trip to one of Japan’s many famous beaches, like those in Shikoku. Summer is the perfect time to discover new places and enjoy outdoor events under the sun.

Food and festivals

Aside from the weather, there are plenty of activities and foods that separate summer in Japan from the other seasons. One thing that stands out is watching fireworks. The crowds, the food stalls and the lights in the sky make for a memorable night.

Despite the heat, there are plenty of exciting Japanese festivals throughout the summer. Depending on the region, various traditions are carried out throughout the fun. For example, some festivals make use of a portable shrine, a massive structure that’s carried by a team of locals wearing their traditional festival coat, or happi coat.

Related words and phrases

Here’s a list of words to help you transition into summer:

  • (なつ): summer
  • 花火 (はなび): fireworks
  • スイカ: watermelon
  • 祭り (まつり): festival
  • 神輿 (みこし): portable shrine
  • 法被 (はっぴ): festival coat, or happi coat
  • 蒸し暑い (むしあつい): humid

Now that you know how to cool down in summer, let’s approach the reflective nature of fall.

Enjoy the Colorful Japanese Words of Fall: 秋 (あき)

Overview

This is my favorite season. The way nature changes its skin and sheds the past is euphoric to me. So how can you talk about the fall?

When fall arrives, the leaves change color. They become all sorts of red, orange and yellow. It’s such a marvelous sight that there’s a Japanese word for it: 紅葉 (こうよう) — leaves changing color. Check out other great words (and food!) for fall below.

Food and festivals

For food, you can enjoy the warmth of hot pot with all sorts of seasonal vegetables inside. One of my personal favorites is hot pot with pumpkin! I’m not usually a big fan of sweets, but pumpkin hot pot is the best. Maybe it’s just part of my autumn appetite?

Aside from food, there’s the beauty of outdoor events. One that stands out in my memory is 薪能 (たきぎのう) — Takigi Noh theatre, which I first saw in Kyoto. This ancient form of theatre is usually performed inside, but during the fall, some actors move outside to act against the aura of torches billowing ominous flames and the bellows from the choir ringing out into the cool wind. Their masks and elegant kimonos are a sight to behold!

It’s definitely something to witness, and it also makes for great conversation.

Related words and phrases

Here’s a list of words to help you ease the conversation into fall:

  • (あき): fall
  • 紅葉 (こうよう): leaves changing color
  • サツマイモ: sweet potato
  • カボチャ: pumpkin
  • 薪能 (たきぎのう): outdoor Noh theatre
  • 涼しい (すずしい): cool/refreshing

Defrost Your Language Skills with Winter: 冬 (ふゆ)

Overview

The coldest winter I’ve spent to date is in Kyoto, which is in a valley. So, all the water in the air coalesces into some deep inner frost that chills you down to the bone.

I spent some time volunteering on a rice farm in the Kyoto countryside during my early 20s. I remember waking up in the middle of the night to see if my toes were still attached. They were, but they were a slight tinge of blue.

Years later when I lived in Hokkaido, I remember the gratitude I felt for central heating. And for not ever having to use this word again: 底冷え (そこびえ) — bone-cold. There was more snow there than in Kyoto, but the houses were built with the winter in mind, as they were insulated and with heat that flowed throughout the house. So nice.

Food and festivals

Cold isn’t the only thing that characterizes Japanese winters. The food seems to get even more delicious during this time.

This is especially true for (なべ) — hot pot, which we’ve mentioned earlier. This warm soup is made with an assortment of meats, fish and vegetables in the wintertime. And it just hits different when the cold nips at your extremities in the outside world.

It’s not a coincidence that you usually eat hot pot with friends either. Gathering around the flame of the hot pot and recounting stories of things that took place earlier in the year while listening to music seems to tap into something primal: a sense of community that enabled our ancestors to survive the harshness of past winters. This is a feeling I accessed frequently during my time working at Hoshino Resorts Hotel in the mountains of Hokkaido. We warmed each other up with our conversations.

And no matter if we went to the annual 雪祭り (ゆき まつり) — Snow Festival or a nearby town for window shopping, we always ended the night with warm hot pot.

Related words and phrases

Here’s a list of words that can help you warm up the conversation during winter:

  • (ふゆ): winter
  • 寒い (さむい): cold
  • 底冷え (そこびえ): bone-cold
  • (なべ): hot pot
  • 雪祭り (ゆき まつり): Snow Festival
  • お正月 (おしょうがつ): New Years

 

Mastering a language is all about learning how to use it naturally. If your goal is to become fluent in Japanese, then you need to increase the number of conversations you have with native speakers.

A good conversational starting point is the current season since that affects everyone. Now, you’ll have the words and phrases you need to start a discussion with any Japanese speaker!


Brandon Chin is a Jamaican-Chinese hybrid and sees the world just the same: a mash-up of different stories. He spends his time asking questions through his novels. Based in Fukuoka, he helps you travel to Japan virtually through his podcast, Raw Japan, and his free daily newsletter here: brandonchin.net.

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