Posted by: mariabro | June 5, 2012

Two Countries, Four Seasons

On the surface, Canada and Japan do not seem to have much in common.  Canada is the second-largest landmass in the world, about 25 times the size of Japan with only one-quarter of the population.  Canada is often stereotyped as cold and snowy while Japan has more of a tropical image.   Yet, over the past seven years as a Canadian living in Japan I have grown to see more similarities than differences.  Polite, clean, friendly, and peaceful, are some of the words used to describe both cultures.

One of the more interesting things I discovered is that we both have an appreciation of a climate with four distinct seasons.  The weather in spring and fall is quite similar, while Canadian winters are harsher, and Japanese summers are more extreme. Each country offers celebrations surrounding the change from winter to spring to summer to fall.

Canadians have time-honored traditions celebrating the change of the seasons, similar to the Japanese.  Having just enjoyed my seventh sakura season in Japan I continue to be inspired by the way this tiny flower transforms a nation from stoicism to unbridled joy and silliness.  The sake may have something to do with it.

I remember my first Hanami picnic in Yoyogi park; sitting (shivering) on blue plastic sheets, drinking and looking up at the trees.  It felt like a Grateful Dead concert without the music.

But then I realized Canadians have a similar rite of passage celebrating the end of a long, cold winter.  We call it “May Two-Four”, the 24th of May long weekend.  Historically, it was the birthday of Queen Victoria and as a monarchy we are supposed to celebrate the Queen’s birthday.  Actually, I think we just chose this particular weekend to shed our winter clothes and open up the cottage for the summer.  Many Canadians also like to drink beer at this time.  In Canada beer is sold in cases of 24.  Hence, it became known as the “May Two-Four” weekend.  Canadians drive up north to the cottage, sit (shivering) on the dock of the bay, drinking beer and looking at the water. Just like the sake-sakura celebrations.  See how much we have in common?

We also enjoy beautiful fall colors in Canada. Just like the Japanese Koyo and Momiji-viewing festivals, we look forward to our maple leaf splendor from September onwards.  This is usually accompanied by the closing of the cottage for the winter, and the celebration of Thanksgiving in October.  Generally, we switch from beer to Canadian Club rye and ginger ale as it gets colder.

While we have many similarities we also have differences.  The Japanese appreciation of the seasons extends to their diet. The concept of Shun, or the seasonality of food exemplifies this.  The freshness and deliberate use of particular ingredients during specific times of the year is a quality I have grown to love and appreciate.

Here’s to our similarities and our differences. I’ll drink to that!

published in Japan Times Shukan ST June 1, 2012

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  1. Nice post. I’ve always felt these similarities as well but I also found myself drawn to a certain familiarity in South Korea when I visited there in November.

    I really miss Canadian fall though. I always miss it as I visit home at Christmas time.

    • Thanks for your comment! I’d love to visit south Korea, haven’t been there yet. But I agree Canada is especially beautiful in the fall. Fall fashion is my favourite too, sweaters, scarves, leather boots.

      • Most definitely! And the layering, I love layering

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