Little Cold, Great Cold

This topic is fitting considering that the weather in Ireland is getting pretty cold by now. Traditionally in Japanese calendars,* you’ll see two days of note in January: daikan (大寒) and shōkan (小寒). These translate to “big cold” and “little cold” respectively. “Little Cold” starts in the second week of January, while “Big Cold” starts toward the third week.

What do these mean?

Traditionally, this is the coldest time of year in Japan, as winds from Siberia really start to come down and drop the temperature. If you’re living on the north-facing side of Japan, you really get hit hard during this time, but even in the more sheltered areas like the Kantō or Kansai regions, the air definitely gets more icy. Worse, most Japanese homes don’t have built-in heating and rely on portable heaters or sutōbu (ストーブ) or the air-conditioner/heaters near the ceiling. The latter can be both cooling in the winter, or warm in the winter, but it does make the air pretty dry.

However, imagine the old days when no such heating existed. Times were pretty harsh at this time of year, so it’s natural that traditional calendars still reflect this. Many still live in the countryside and don’t have the best heating, so they rely on nice warm food, and huddling around heating under the table, or kotatsu (炬燵).

So, as of writing, us in the Northern Hemisphere are stuck in “Big Cold” right now, so stay warm, drink lots of hot liquids and take care!


* – For some reason, old-style Japanese calendars remind me of almanacs for some reason. They’re a treasure-trove of little cultural factoids that Westerners can miss.

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