Saturday, 6 January 2018


New Year's Day:
Silent pine trees
on Higashiyama
                Takakuwa Ranko

What is a season? In Britain we recognise just four seasons - spring, summer, autumn and winter - which are divided equally throughout the calendar year. Looking beyond our shores, seasons are not always restricted in number, defined by the calendar year, or based on weather.  Ancient Japanese society had 25 main seasons and 72 microseasons, each defined by experience and observation of the natural world. The beginning of January is the microseason of "Beneath the Snow the Wheat Sprouts."

Drawing on the Japanese notion of microseasons, Suzi and Jo started to wonder how we might recognise British microseasons, and what this might tell us about the changing environment in our own back yards. Thus we are starting this project, bringing together the arts and science to redefine our seasons based on microseasons; not based on the date, but elucidated from the sights, sounds and smells of the weather, animal activity, changes in vegetation and human behaviour.

It is often hard for us to imagine the impact of climate change on a global scale.  Everything seems so vast when talking about climate change - the numbers, the lengths of time, things that are happening miles away which we know will affect us but it's difficult to truly connect to imaginatively.  By focusing on the local, on a much smaller scale, we can really start to see small changes and understand what might be happening where we live.

Thus we will start this project in Jo's neck of the woods:  Aylestone Meadows in Leicester. Jo has been discussing with the local council and has permission to locate a pollen trap in the meadows. Suzi will analyse the pollen collected throughout the year. Jo will also make her own artistic observations.  We aim to experiment with how art and science, which both use techniques of close observation, can influence each other to generate a detailed way of describing small changes within small time periods or microseasons.  How will this affect our human perception of the time period of one year? How does this challenge how we perceive seasons? How does this alter our scientific and artistic practice?

We also encourage you, our readers, to get involved!  Email us any observations of change you have made wherever you are - do you notice flowers blooming later in the year than usual, or birds returning from their migration at unexpected times?  How are the microseasons changing your environment - have you spotted small changes that tell you that a new microseason is starting?  Please send us photos, written notes, or even poems and we will post what we can on this blog to share.  Please make sure you note the date of the observation too!

You can also track the Japanese ancient seasons through a beautiful free App by the Utsukushii Kurashikata Institute (translated as Beautiful Living Research Lab), which includes photographs, illustrations, haiku poems such as the one above, and words based on the poetic names of the seasons. Click here to find out more.

Images in this post by Andrew Postlethwaite.

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