While in the States over Christmas, I started thinking about all the things I love about Japan. And it turned out I have so much to say about this topic that I think I’m going to be writing this series for a long time.
So what do I love about Japan? Here are my first two answers:
1) The dramatic changes between seasons, and the way that impacts your life.
I’ve mentioned this before, but in Japan, you experience the change in seasons much more directly than in the States. Produce is sold very seasonally. It’s hard to find strawberries in the summer (they’re a winter fruit) or persimmons in the spring. Bakeries develop seasonal flavors for their sweets, so in April you see cherry-blossom-flavored desserts and in October, chestnut-flavored cakes.
There are seasonal meal traditions, too. In the spring, you have hanami picnics.
In the winter, Japanese people frequently eat nabe at home, which is a giant pot of delicious steaming vegetables/fish/meat in broth, placed on a hot plate in the middle of the kotatsu or table.
Based on the season, you might sit in a different place in your home. In warm weather, I will sit on my living room couch, at my desk, or eat at my kitchen table. In the winter, I am usually under my kotatsu most of the day.
I will also move between rooms much less frequently, and keep parts of the house closed off to contain the heat.
If, like me, you like hiking or biking, your destination may change based on the time of year. The Japanese are nature tourists. They plan and visit parks, forests, gardens and hiking trails to take advantage of one or two specific natural phenomena. For example, the temple on Kiyomizusan, which was created with autumn foliage in mind. During peak foliage weekends, that temple gets crazy high amounts of traffic.
And of course, many of my neighbors have rose gardens planted, which turn spectacular for two weeks a year.
Now, of course, you can find all of this in the States, too. But here, it’s the norm. In the States, we talk about “eating in season” as something to aspire to. Here, it’s just what’s done. Ditto for not over-heating our homes, appreciating nature, and utilizing the changing pace of the seasons.
2) The mountains, and nice hiking paths, all over.
As a sort of corollary to that, I will point out that Japan is about 80% mountain. It’s hard to be somewhere and not see the mountains. I personally have the pleasure of teaching in a mountain school.
You’re never that far from a hiking trail, from gorgeous views, from trees. There’s a reason Mt. Fuji is the perfect symbol for Japan!