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:

Feb 4
Start of spring. Ground thaws, fish appear under ice.
Now
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.

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.

Follow along with the changing of the seasons on this site, with @smallseasonsbot on Twitter, Mastodon, or on your own calendar (Google, iCal). These are a few ways for me to enshrine this idea.

I'd love to push this idea further, 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.