A guide to understanding
Small Seasons

In agricultural days, staying in-tune with the seasons was important. When should we plant seeds? When should we harvest? When will the rains come? Are they late this year? Knowing what was happening with nature was the difference between a plentiful harvest and a barren crop.

Prior to the Gregorian calendar, farmers in China and Japan broke each year down into 24 sekki or “small seasons.” These seasons didn't use dates to mark seasons, but instead, they divided up the year by natural phenomena:

Now
Feb 4
Start of spring. Ground thaws, fish appear under ice.
Feb 18
Rain waters. Snow recedes, mist lingers in the air.
Mar 6
Going-out of the worms. Bugs surface from hibernation.
Mar 21
Vernal equinox. Sparrows start to nest, cherry blossoms bloom.
Apr 4
Clear and bright. Geese fly north, the first rainbows of the year appear.
Apr 21
Rain for harvests. Reeds sprout by rivers, rice seedlings grow.
May 6
Start of summer. Birds and frogs start the songs of summer.
May 21
Small blooming. Flowers and plants bloom, wheat ripens.
Jun 5
Seeds and cereals. Praying mantises hatch, fireflies come out. Time to seed the soil.
Jun 21
Reaching summer. Longest days of the year, irises bloom.
Jul 7
Small heat. Warm winds blow, young hawks learn to fly.
Jul 23
Big heat. Summer heat at its strongest, accompanied by great rains.
Aug 8
Start of autumn. Cooler winds blow, thick fogs roll through hills.
Aug 23
Lessening heat. Rice has ripened, the heat of summer, forgotten.
Sep 7
White dew. Drops of dew on grass.
Sep 23
Autumnal equinox. Day and night are of equal length.
Oct 8
Cold dew. Temperatures begin to drop, crickets stop chirping.
Oct 23
Frosting. The first frosts, maple leaves turn yellow.
Nov 8
Start of winter. The ground starts to freeze.
Nov 23
Small snow. Light snow, the last leaves have fallen from trees.
Dec 8
Big snow. Cold sets in, bears hibernate.
Dec 22
Winter solstice. Shortest days of the year.
Jan 6
Small cold. Temperatures quickly drop.
Jan 20
Big cold. Ice thickens on the streams, hens huddle together.
SeasonNameMeaningAssociationsApprox. Date
Spring
Risshun
立春
Start of spring
Ground thaws, fish appear under ice.
Feb 4
Usui
雨水
Rain waters
Snow recedes, mist lingers in the air.
Feb 18
Keichitsu
啓蟄
Going-out of the worms
Bugs surface from hibernation.
Mar 6
Shunbun
春分
Vernal equinox
Sparrows start to nest, cherry blossoms bloom.
Mar 21
Seimei
清明
Clear and bright
Geese fly north, the first rainbows of the year appear.
Apr 4
Koku
穀雨
Rain for harvests
Reeds sprout by rivers, rice seedlings grow.
Apr 21
Summer
Rikka
立夏
Start of summer
Birds and frogs start the songs of summer.
May 6
Shoman
小満
Small blooming
Flowers and plants bloom, wheat ripens.
May 21
Boshu
芒種
Seeds and cereals
Praying mantises hatch, fireflies come out. Time to seed the soil.
Jun 5
Geshi
夏至
Reaching summer
Longest days of the year, irises bloom.
Jun 21
Shousho
小暑
Small heat
Warm winds blow, young hawks learn to fly.
Jul 7
Taisho
大暑
Big heat
Summer heat at its strongest, accompanied by great rains.
Jul 23
Autumn
Risshu
立秋
Start of autumn
Cooler winds blow, thick fogs roll through hills.
Aug 8
Shosho
処暑
Lessening heat
Rice has ripened, the heat of summer, forgotten.
Aug 23
Hakuro
白露
White dew
Drops of dew on grass.
Sep 7
Shubun
秋分
Autumnal equinox
Day and night are of equal length.
Sep 23
Kanro
寒露
Cold dew
Temperatures begin to drop, crickets stop chirping.
Oct 8
Soko
霜降
Frosting
The first frosts, maple leaves turn yellow.
Oct 23
Winter
Ritto
立冬
Start of winter
The ground starts to freeze.
Nov 8
Shosetsu
小雪
Small snow
Light snow, the last leaves have fallen from trees.
Nov 23
Taisetsu
大雪
Big snow
Cold sets in, bears hibernate.
Dec 8
Toji
冬至
Winter solstice
Shortest days of the year.
Dec 22
Shokan
小寒
Small cold
Temperatures quickly drop.
Jan 6
Daikan
大寒
Big cold
Ice thickens on the streams, hens huddle together.
Jan 20

Living in cities, most of us don’t need to know if the rains are late this year, or when the bushwarblers will start warbling.

But it's nice to have a more fine-grained way of thinking about the year; dividing such a big span of time into four big seasons feels really clumsy. Thinking in two week sekki seems to match how my life and environment changes a lot better.

This site and this twitterbot are a way for me to enshrine this idea.

I'd love to push this idea further, to make it more useful for people. If you have ideas of how you'd like to see this stuff, throw a note on this Github repo.