Foreigners and the 4 seasons

There are many tales of questions and remarks that foreigners are sick of hearing from Japanese people, some more audacious or annoying than others. Ranging from somewhat understandable (Your Japanese is so good!) to the somewhat demeaning (you can use chopsticks!) to kind of ignorant (English is your native language right?), there is one question that you hear every Westerner blog complaining or mocking about at some point because of its sheer silliness.

‘Does your country have 4 seasons?’

(Note: I’ve been asked this a total of 3 times in 2 1/2 years, and neither time was the speaker surprised with my answer)

I have to admit, coming from Europe, it was a weird question to hear. Before I came to Japan, a lovely foreigner in Japan blog informed me that Japanese people are taught in schools that 4 seasons are unique to Japan. I’ve heard countless rants about the topic from other foreigners. And I had to agree, what a silly thing to remark! All countries have 4 seasons.

But wait, no. No they don’t. And it is actually a rare instance of Japanese people being culturally sensitive to foreigners. Because you see, a lot of countries don’t have 4 seasons. It’s us Europeans&North Americans who assume that 4 seasons is the norm. If you ignore China for a moment, you will see that the greatest sources of foreigners in Japan all come from countries that do not have 4 seasons (or if they do, they are considerably lighter differences). Many of them are on the other side of the equator, so the seasons are reversed.


These are just the countries from tropical climate zones of the Earth where all twelve months have mean temperatures above 18.0 °C (64.4 °F). 2 season-climates are still prominent a few degrees south and north of this.

So when a Japanese person is asking if your country has 4 seasons, they are not doing it out of ignorance or because 4 seasons is some ultimate achievement. They are genuinely asking because they know that seasons vary according to geographic location. They’re being nice. It’s a (not so rare) case of criticism about Japan being ignorant revealing the ignorance of the speaker.

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