Shinseikatsu: New Beginnings and the Japanese Spring
Ask a Japanese person when the year starts and you're going to get one of two answers: either January 1st, or late March/early April. What happens in the Spring? A number of important events in the Japanese calendar, which when rolled into one is called “Shinseikatsu” (新生活).
Shinseikatsu literally means “new life activity”. It is the time of year that many people, young and old, strike out into new horizons and new lifestyles while surrounded by the symbolism of Spring and literal new life opening all around them.
For school children, this is a big deal: the school year ends in March and begins again in April (the gap between school years is quite short, with the summer holiday being the longest break). Right now, every school up and down the land is preparing to send off the students in their most senior year with their “Sotsugyoushiki” (卒業式), the Graduation Ceremony. This elaborate and emotionally-charged ritual may still be a whole month away (typically mid-March), but it is approached with meticulous practice and planning. The Graduation Ceremony is not just the end of things but also as the beginning of new possibilities.
So the feeling of Spring heralding change is ingrained from a young age in Japan, carrying through to adulthood. The Shinseikatsu period is the time when people are most likely to switch jobs, get promoted or be moved to another branch of the company in organization reshuffles. This is partly to accommodate new University graduates into the office, who come dressed in crisp new suits of black and white. TV commercials for suit shops such as Aoki and Aoyama fill the screens in February and March, pushing their ‘freshman’ range for those about to enter the workforce.
People often move house this time of year, usually hand in hand with their new job. Japan’s narrow backstreets clog up with moving vans as entire families pull up their roots and sink them into a new location. This is an occasion full of bittersweet memories and symbolism: the image of a youngster being pulled away on a train as they strike out on their own, their family waving tearfully from the platform, is a powerful one in Japan.
Companies are once again close at hand to offer their services to those embarking on a period of Shinkeikatsu. Moving companies wrestle for business, offering the best, the quickest, the most efficient moving experience. Electrical stores offer Shinseikatsu bundle deals which throw in a fridge-freezer, a microwave and a washing machine for a budget friendly price. Stationery stores offer diaries that start from April.
And all of this Shinseikatsu activity unfolds to a backdrop of Japan’s most famous Springtime symbol: the unfurling of the ‘sakura’ cherry blossom. Sweeping across the country from the most southern tip to the most northern, even the weather reports update the population on the progress of the sakura across the country's gardens, parks and boulevards.
The sakura are seen as the perfect symbol of Shinseikatsu, of a beautiful new life springing from the old. The public celebrate the arrival of the local sakura like the homecoming of a local celebrity, and use it as a wonderful backdrop for “hanami” (花見), where groups of friends, co-workers and families take to the parks with a big tarp and a load of snacks and drinks in tow and simply revel under the the pink-white canopies and warmer weather. Heading to some of the more famous hanami spots in Japan, such as Ueno Park, feels like walking into one giant communal picnic. Hanami is the much anticipated event that for many signals the successful completion of another busy and stressful Shinseikatsu.
Shinseikatsu is a fascinating time of year in Japan. Even for those who are going through no life changes in Spring, one can't help but get caught up in the national mood for change and having a bit of a refresh.