April – a time for cleaning and renewal in Japan and Europe

Japanese people living in northern Europe tell me they miss the distinctive four seasons of Japan.  At first this seems a strange thing to say to most Europeans, as we believe we have four distinct seasons too.  But it is true that changes in the season are far less predictable than in Japan, and from autumn through to spring there can be a succession of indistinguishable grey, wet, cold days.

Spring has come earlier than normal this year thanks to an unusually warm winter.  The daffodils and crocuses are already beginning to bloom in the parks where I walk my dog and this weekend my husband and I remarked how busy and energised the town seemed.  Although the end of season sales are still dragging on, the new spring stock is in, with fresh, lighter colours in the window.  The bright sunshine pushed me outdoors to clean the outside of our windows of the winter grime and my husband has nearly finished repainting the kitchen.

Spring cleaning vs the Big Clean

We call this “spring cleaning” in the UK – similar to the Osoji (Big Cleaning) that happens in Japan for the New Year.  We don’t do much cleaning around New Year partly because the days are so short – getting dark by 4pm with the sun rising as late as 8am at the end of December.  Even in the daylight hours it is too gloomy to see the dirt.

Spring is also a time of rebirth and renewal in the Christian calendar.  From February 10th to March 24th this year is a period called Lent, when you are meant to give up vices such as drinking alcohol or smoking or eating favourite foods such as chocolate.  This is a way of remembering the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the desert and is supposed to be a spiritual preparation for Easter (the weekend of 26th and 27th March this year), which commemorates the death and resurrection of Jesus.  These dates change from year to year – Easter and Lent in 2017 will be three weeks later than 2016.

Pre-Christian origins of Easter

Actually the word “Easter” has pre-Christian origins – deriving from an old Germanic word for dawn. According to the 8th century historian, Bede, there was a northern European pagan goddess of dawn, Eostre, whose symbol was a hare or rabbit – which is thought to be why so many Easter decorations feature rabbits.  Another symbol of Easter, the egg, either made from chocolate or painted hen’s eggs, is also pre-Christian, when people gave each other eggs as gifts around the time of the spring equinox.

A time for cleansing and renewal in Japan and Europe

So, while the financial year of April 1st to March 31st is not as universal in Europe as it is in Japan, and our academic year actually starts in September/October, March and April are still a good time to renew and refresh the company.  The rhythms of a cleansing and preparation period in February and March, followed by a new lease of life in April have deep roots in the European psyche.

This article was originally published in the Teikoku Databank News in March 2016

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