Summer in Niseko…

…is over and the cool nights are already hinting at the coming winter Yay!

This changing of the seasons begs the question: when did summer end here in the Niseko area? When did Autumn begin? Depending on where you are from, what information you refer to, or what the local conditions are, the answer can vary quite a bit. Looking at a few different interpretations on the summer cut off and the autumn start, its easy to see that its not so easy to define. The Japan Meteorological Agency says summer ended at midnight on August 31st, but the story doesn’t end there.

  • Television program broadcast in Japan is scheduled by season, which says summer is from July to September, and autumn is October to December, so according to those glued to their TV’s eagerly awaiting the dramatic season finale of their favorite TV program, summer is coming to a close, but not quite over.
  • Fiscal seasons in Japan also appear to follow the same calendar as television programming, calling summer the period from July to September, and autumn the stretch from October to December. So if you ask the busy accountant in the back office working late hours in order to get the quarterly statements out what season it is, they will tell you not to bother them now and come back in October when summer is over.
  • According to the traditional East Asian solar calendar which Japan used during the Edo Period, summer started on May 6th and ended on August 7th, so if you were one of the very few foreigners allowed off your trade ship in a port town like Nagasaki and asked your translator to ask one of the locals if summer was over, you would find out that despite the heat and blazing sun, summer is long over and fall is only going to last for another month!
  • Folks from the southern hemisphere in the Niseko area might just rely on weather observations and word from others since their summer ends sometime in March. If you asked a visitor from Chile what season she thought it was she might say ‘no habla Japones’.

Observing weather to determine seasons and seasonal change gives the most practical definition of seasons, and is indeed the official method of separating summer from autumn for countries that use meteorological reckoning (astronomical timing on the other hand ignores weather and uses the autumn equinox in late September to determine the end of summer and beginning of autumn). Based on the weather observations of those in the Niseko area this summer, some might say the 2015 summer never even came and we somehow went from a long muggy spring straight to autumn. However, looking back at temperatures in Kutchan there was noticeable drop in temperature in late August that had most of us pulling over another blanket at night, and caused some of the more delicate foliage to yellow such as the always abundant itadori, or Japanese knotweed. This temperature drop was the sign that says we turned the corner and are headed toward winter. A sign most of us are delighted to see and the sign that casual observers of the weather would recognize as the end of summer. On the subject of weather observations in Niseko, and the greater Japanese archipelago for that matter, the very strong El Niño conditions building in the Eastern Pacific this year a surely to blame for the mediocre summer weather. The last time meteorologists saw El Niño conditions this strong was the monster El Niño of 1997~1998. That season, Niseko received above average snowfall because of a colder and much snowier than average January.

But talk of snow is a little premature yet, so back to the point about summer, autumn and how we define when we have crossed from the former into the later. Regardless of whether you are a TV addict, accountant, from the Edo Period, from the Southern Hemisphere, or from a country that uses astronomical timing, we can always refer back to the official designation recognized by the Japanese Meteorological Agency to know when summer ends and autumn begins: August 31st is last day of summer, September 1st is first day of autumn. But for many, using other indicators is more fun. Like when knotweed leaves start to turn yellow, when the sound of crickets overtake the sound of cicadas, or when the Hirafu festival is done (^^)

For snow sports enthusiasts the transition from summer to autumn is an exciting time. We are on the way to that time of the year when the mountains go through a transformation that is nothing short of magical and we are allowed once again to participate in activities that are straight out of a fantasy dream world…