Spring has sprung.
It’s a cliche, but spring is my favourite season of the year. Here in the UK we are far enough to the north that winter can be a depressing time; short days, dark evenings, and cold weather.
In London, in the middle of winter, the sun sets at 3:50pm and doesn’t rise again until 8am. Compare this to Tokyo, where even on the shortest days the sun stays above the horizon until 4:30pm and then rises at 6:30am - giving people in Tokyo about two hours more sunlight per day in midwinter!
(Looking at this picture, comparing the position of the UK and Japan relative to the 45° line of latitude, we can see that every single part of the UK is north of Hokkaido; London is on the same line of latitude as Sakhalin!)
For this reason, among others, spring is a very important time for people in the UK (and many other countries), as the sun begins to show its face again, the land wakes up, and it becomes possible to go outside without several layers of clothes.
When I was a child, spring meant that I would no longer have to wake up in the dark, walk to school in the dark, then walk home in the dark again after school.
Unlike Japan’s almost clockwork seasons, reliable as a Swiss watch (or a Grand Seiko), the British spring arrives in a different way every year. Sometimes it is a shy season, poking its head through the door with a couple of warm days, then retreating embarrassed for another couple of weeks. Sometimes winter just continues, and continues, until just when people have given up hope the new season arrives in mid-April with shining sun and buzzing insects.
‘Unpredictable’ is the key word. To go out in late March without bringing a light jacket, just in case, is a gamble. To plan a picnic, madness.
Every year, overly-optimistic posts appear on social media - “Spring is finally here!” they shout, and almost every year they are proven wrong with a final gasp from winter, unwilling to die.
This leads to plenty of jokes, such as this:
The name ‘Fool’s Spring’ is by analogy with ‘Fool’s Gold’- Iron Pyrite, a worthless ore which was often mistaken by European explorers for the real thing, and brought back to Europe at great expense. In much the same way, Fool’s spring is often mistaken by British grill-owners for the real thing, causing barbecues to be planned and then cancelled, at great expense.
My first spring in Japan was a magical experience. I was 21 years old, finally done with school and university, living a ‘great adventure’ away from my family and friends, and at last able to enjoy it. I had arrived in Tokyo in December, and so had spent just over three months freezing cold in my tiny room in my little guesthouse, and now suddenly the sky was a huge blue dome, the trees had turned pink and white, and I went out to explore the balmy air on my new bicycle.
I took a few pictures, which show the limitations of galapagos camera phones in early 2009, but they definitely count as a spring memory for me.
As I mentioned in the title, spring has sprung. Just a few days ago the temperature here in London was still in the low tens, but since Monday it has shot up to 22˚C. Birds are singing, bees are buzzing, trees are blooming, and shorts are being worn.
Let’s hope the real spring is here, not the fools’ one.