Searching for the Japanese Sun

The Rolling Mountains of HachimantaiJapan is famously known as the land of the rising sun. In fact, the Japanese word for Japan, “nihon, or nippon” is written with the Chinese characters ‘origin’ and ‘sun’.  For a country so bathed is sun symbolism you’d think a northern Canadian such as myself could find a some sunlight on this little Island.  Sadly, if you come from a northern latitude and are used to those nine o’clock sunsets, you are in for a little shock.  Read on to find out what I mean.

First, I need to be fair to Japan. As a person who used to live in Edmonton, Alberta, where the 55 degree latitude gave me amazingly long 17 hour days in the summer, there is going to be a stark difference between Japan and Canada . Earth’s tilt dictacts that countries in more extreme latitudes will experience long summer days and short winter days. Japan is situated  closer to the equator than Canada and therefore, the days in the summer and winter are not so extreme. Of course, we pay for those long days in Edmonton with long, cold winter nights.  However,  let’s leave that aside for the moment and explore why Japan seems to have a shockingly short day, even in the summer.

One thing I quickly noticed upon my arrive to Japan some seven years ago was that in the summer, you don’t really need an alarm clock if you are getting up at 6:30am. The sun is up at around 4:45 and by the time you need to get up for work, the light is pouring in.  That is crazy early for sunrise. And since Japan doesn’t have any daylight savings scheme, the sun never comes up any later that 7am in the winter. This means plenty of early morning light all year long.  This was probably set up early on so that farmers could enjoy as much early sunlight as possible.

Of course, on the other end of this, the sun goes down quite early. In the winter, the earliest sunset occurs between 4:10 and 4:40 depending on what part of the country you are in, and this in itself is not too shocking, but in the summer, the sunsets between 7:10 and 7:40.  Sure, it is about 15 hours of daylight, but it doesn’t feel like it to me. I don’t wake up at 3:50am, so I can’t really enjoy that early summer sun.   This meant I got a case of  summer SAD(Seasonal Affective Disorder) during my first summer here .  Crazy, huh?  Having grown up in a northern country I took those late summer sunsets for granted.

You’ll probably notice however, that I am still in Japan. There were many other factors that kept me here, and I wasn’t driven off by the short summer days. But while, I’ve adjust to a certain point, I still long for those long Canadian summers.  I often wonder if Japan is in the wrong time zone, but then it doesn’t really affect people here. In fact, when I brought it, a salaryman told me he’d prefer it if things stayed exactly as they were. If there was more sunlight,   his company would have him work more overtime. Point taken.

Do summer sunsets here seem early to you as well? Or normal? Let me know in the comments.

3 Responses to “Searching for the Japanese Sun”

  • I’m a Vancouverite by birth, and my first year in rural Shikoku surprised me – sunset before 8pm?! But the view of the night sky there is deep and awe inspiring. And early night skies make for great star gazing early on. Winters, well, I’m grateful for Kanto’s sunshine. Vancouver is a dark, gray hole in the winter. I’m grateful for the Nihon sun!

  • Exactly!
    The long summer nights is one of the things I miss most about Denmark. Not only is the sunset later, the twilight also lasts much longer. It feels so wrong to have a pitch black sky at around 19 here.

  • I realize this is an old entry but I’ve been in Japan for about 3 weeks and was searching for information on this whole “early sunset” phenomenon. I’m from Toronto, Canada myself, so the fact that it starts getting dark just after 5 in Japan really wigged me out at first. In Canada, the sun sets around 9 or so this time of year.

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