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Expressions of Spring

2013/04/24

This year Spring came earlier than expected. With many cherry blossom festivals planned months in advance, communities were left to wonder if there would be any blossoms left over for their festivals after the early bloom.


It was in fact another good year for rich and colorful blossoms, but many of the official festivals were unable to re-schedule and were left with only the scraps. Spring can be notoriously fickle and unpredictable, and Japanese culture has an expression for it,「三寒四温」or "san kann shi onn" which roughly translates to "one in four days are warm." The expression is used when talking about the unsteady patterns of spring weather. Yet there is another Japanese expression that is a little closer to the core of this article, and this expression runs in the face of the traditional English expression "April showers bring May flowers" which is an up-beat take on the chaotic weather of early Spring.


In Japan there is the idea 「五月病」or "go gatsu byou" which is sometimes translated as "the May blues", or "Spring Sickness". It refers to the strains placed on our mental and physical health in springtime. It has the opposite meaning to the mostly positive English idea of "Spring Fever", which generally refers to an increase in energy after the end of winter. The Japanese expression of "go gatsu byou", or Spring Sickness, refers to the new pressures that are felt by students and employees as the academic and professional world shifts from an introductory phase into the full force academic and professional grind, and the honeymoon ends. Along with the chaotic weather and rise in temperature there is a rise in pollen and hay fever, it's not unusual for people to get sick. There are many causes for this dip in health during springtime, the body's reserves of the "happiness hormone" serotonin, whose production depends on daylight, become exhausted over the winter, making it especially easy for the "sleep hormone" melatonin to have its effect. When the days become longer in springtime, the body readjusts its hormone levels, and this changeover puts a heavy strain on the body, which makes you feel tired. Add on top of that the pollen, the rain, the new academic and professional year, and all the rest, and it's easy to see why some people start to feeling under the weather.


But don't let it get you down! Spring comes replete with many built-in benefits. The best one obviously being "Golden Week", but there are many other ways to defend against "the May Blues". Most are accomplished by simply enjoying the springtime; such as getting more sunshine to increase vitamin E, enjoying to the return of the birds and the leaves, trying to eat more seasonal foods and less carbohydrates to increase proteins and vitamins in your diet which help produce serotonin, and to have realistic expectations about your new work or academic year. Take care of your body and health, get outside, and don't forget to "stop and smell the flowers." Try talking to you co-workers and students about "sann ka shi onn" and "go gatsu byou", and learn about what they have to say on the subject.




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