san kan shi on
Pretty much everything about winter weather pisses me off, but nothing gets under my skin quite so much as the big Spring Tease we're suffering through in Japan this year.
It was a brutally cold winter and the first time in 4 years I've seen snow stick in Saga. And it didn't just stick, we had 13cms. And after that it started getting warm, I stopped wearing gloves and long underwear (お爺ちゃんパンツ, as my girlfriend calls them), then BAM! Snow again!
Then it jumped up into the 20s last week, but today and yesterday, I was back to using the はる ほっかいろ that keep me alive during the worst parts of winter.
Talking about this weather with my co-workers, I found out that not only is this weather an annually expected phenomenon, BUT there's a 四字熟語 for it.
Specific to the transition between winter and spring, cold weather that gets warm for a few days, then cold again.
Literally: 3 days of cold, 4 days of hot.
What's more, generally the cold days during a 三寒四温 period are characterized by clear sunny weather, and the warm days are gray and wet. Absolutely true of this week!
For your practical purposes, you can stop reading here. If you're a "knowing stuff" dork like me, please read on.
The original expression comes from China of course, by way of Korea, because the phenomenon is much more common there. This is due to what's called the "Siberian High," a collection of cold dry air. It goes through cycles of growing weak and strong, which are thought to cause the vascillation between warm and cold as winter ends and spring begins. However, Japan feels the effects of not only the Siberian High, but also the Pacific High, equally dry, but subtropical, so not cold.
Because Japan deals with the two, 三寒四温 is not as regularly occurring as it is in China or Korea. It's more of a "Will it happen this year or not?" kind of thing.
Also of note, in recent years the phrase has started to be used to talk about the beginning of spring when the air pressure alternates between high and low, and warm weather starts. While you can't call this incorrect, it's not the original meaning.
As far as examples of use go, this one is pretty much a stand alone thing. Like if someone said "It's so cold today, but it was warm yesterday," I'd be all like "三寒四温。" The End.