If you have a slack in the month of May, characterized by a little depression accompanied by lethargy and a je ne sais quoi of craving for nothing, a Japanese will tell you that you are suffering from gogatsu-byô, from the “blues of the May”. Because in Japan, spring rhymes with fleeting depression and melancholy, between renewal and routine.

ATIn Japan, if the month of May heralds the arrival of heat and sunny days just before the rainy season sets in, it is also a time of the year that coincides with a peak of depressions. This particular phenomenon, noticed during the Sixties, gave rise to the expression gogatsu-byô, literally, “the disease or blues of May”.

Spring is synonymous with a new beginning …

Did you know ? In Japan, the school year does not start in September, after two months of summer vacation, but April, after barely two or three weeks of vacation in March before students move on to the next year. The traditional recruiting system, as well as the fiscal year of many Japanese companies, have been modeled on the latter. It is in the spring that young graduates take their first steps into the world of work and that changes between departments take place.

It is not difficult to understand the attachment of the Japanese to the flowering of cherry blossoms. This period, reminiscent of the ephemeral beauty of nature, accompanies the students who return to class while the young employees discover their company.

The arrival of spring is synonymous with a new beginning, a transition, expected, apprehended, during which many Japanese take their marks in a new environment: new school, new company, new team, new place of life. Because it is also a period of moving.

More than in the New Year, in Japan, good resolutions are taken in spring.

… And therefore issues.

But the excitement of novelty, the importance of some sort of rite of passage, places the stakes high and can give rise to great concern. And with it, settles a melancholy which can turn to depression in the most fragile people or encountering difficulties at school or at work.

This seasonal depression is often accentuated after Golden Week, a week of public holidays more or less long depending on the calendar of the year, which marks the transition from April to May. It must be said that the month of May then appears interminable, Japan not having a public holiday before the end of July. The excitement gives way to the grind, sometimes disappointing after so much hope.

Gogatsu-byô: a blues of the month of May, from students to workers

It was in the 1960s that the expression gogatsu-byô, literally “month of May” and “illness”, appeared to describe the depressive state of students a few weeks after their return to university. In post-war Japan, the Japanese put tremendous pressure on themselves to pass the tough entrance exams, because being admitted is then the guarantee of a job for life upon leaving. Doctors of the day found that many students mentally collapsed within weeks of achieving their goal. It was a form of burn-out, characterized by mental and physical exhaustion, with lethargy at the university that could go as far as complete withdrawal from social life.

Over the decades, the expression which is not officially recognized by medicine, but widely understood and used by the Japanese, has broadened to speak of all the phenomena of exhaustion, anxiety, depression, in schools, universities and companies, which lead Japan to record a very large number of suicides among young people and employees between March and May. If Japan is still lagging behind in the management of psychological disorders, this period is still marked by more vigilance on the part of schools and companies, the latter often organizing the annual medical examination of work between April and July.

Could a return to school in September make gogatsu-byô disappear?

The coronavirus pandemic has completely turned this transition upside down for students and young employees. If the majority of students must return to school on June 1, 2020 will be difficult to catch up. As for the young recruits, many were not able to make their return to work, or at least not in the best conditions …

This unprecedented and difficult situation is therefore enough to depress the most socially and economically vulnerable. And yet Japan has noted a spectacular drop in the number of suicides for the month of April: – 20% compared to 2019. In a recent poll, the Japanese said they were much less stressed. As paradoxical as it may seem, confinement, by putting an end to this period of transition, has reduced the phenomenon of gogatsu-byô. The state of emergency also revealed that the Japanese seem to be trying to change their lifestyle, with 60% of employees saying they are in favor of teleworking.

This upheaval in the school calendar gave the Japanese Minister of Education something to think about, who (re) put on the table a plan to permanently postpone the start of the school year and university to September to finally align with the university systems. foreigners. This overhaul, both expected and criticized, would make it easier for Japanese students to do university exchanges abroad.

It could also put an end to traditional recruitment and push Japanese companies to finally change their recruitment methods, which are no longer so adapted to the job market today.

If the Japanese calendar were to change and open the door to more flexibility, both in school and in the workplace, the expression gogatsu-byô would undoubtedly lose some of its meaning, at least in the precise meaning of May blues.

Unfortunately, the government majority seems to have decided to oppose this project with the argument that the symbol of the flowering of cherry blossoms is culturally too precious to question the calendar. That, and the fact that it is very expensive to set up.

Japanese vocabulary

Japanese Romaji French
五月 病ご が つ び ょ う gogatsubyou May Blues
ochikomu To be depressed
ス ト レ ス sutoresu Stress
精神病せ い し ん び ょ う seishinbyou Psychological disorder
く るし い kurushii Painful, painful
無 気 力む き り ょ く mukiryoku Lethargy
プ レ ッ シ ャ ー puresshaa (Social) pressure

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