Seasonal Turmoil: Gogatsu-Byo And Relationships

Finding People Around You Aloof? Blame It On The Season

By Hilary Keyes
May 18, 2017
Lifestyle, Relationships

If April is the month of change and renewal in Japan, May is the month where Murphy's Law seems to kick in, and things go a bit haywire in all departments. Be prepared, ladies!

With all of the possible upheaval and changes that take place in April, you would think that a month that starts with a week of holidays like May would be a kinder, gentler time. But there is something sinister that may strike at any moment in May: the so-called Gogatsu-byo.

Back to work and post-vacation can make you feel a bit off — to say the least.

What Is It?

Gogatsu-byo (五月病) or “May Sickness” is the term for a Seasonal Affective Disorder-like psychological condition that affects many Japanese people (and directly or indirectly, us foreigners living here) once the flurry of activity in April and the relaxing Golden Week vacation has passed.

Many believe that the number of changes that take place in April, coupled with vacations and then push back into a still-new work or school environment, causes the Gogatsu-byo in the first place. Sufferers report experiencing insomnia, decreased or increased appetite, restlessness, nervousness or anxiety, mood swings, depression, or a host of other “not quite feeling right” physical symptoms that many doctors will struggle to diagnose. While this may seem like an unusual condition to those new to Japan, after being here for a few years, you will definitely start to notice that there is a difference between how people behave in April and June compared to May.

Sufferers report experiencing insomnia, decreased or increased appetite, restlessness, nervousness or anxiety, mood swings, depression, or a host of other ‘not quite feeling right’ physical symptoms.

And this uniquely Japanese condition also can also cause intense turmoil in personal relationships. Going over my own diaries from the years past, and talking to friends from all walks of life in Japan, two distinct trends concerning relationships have appeared consistently from about May 4th to the first week of June. Here they are.

Do people around you feel somehow different lately? Could be the season.

1. People seem standoff-ish or overly sensitive

In general, many people are by nature afraid of change and dislike having to adjust to a new schedule. If you come from a country with Daylight Savings Time, you probably remember how drowsy and confused you felt in those first couple of days after changing the clocks. Add that to potential home, career, and lifestyle changes that may have taken place in less than a month — plus the haze that everyone feels after a long vacation — and you have a recipe for disaster in any group of people. Friends may be less likely to come out for a drink after work; co-workers might be feeling disinclined to work or less helpful than usual, and a host of communication problems and other issues can crop up.

Friends may be less likely to come out for a drink after work; co-workers might be feeling disinclined to work or less helpful than usual, and a host of communication problems and other issues can crop up.

Murphy’s Law states that whatever can go wrong, will go wrong, so expect some bad days where normally friendly co-workers suddenly seem aloof, or for things to not be ready on time, or for deadlines to appear out of nowhere. My friend had a typically stern co-worker burst into tears because they bought the wrong kind of tea for the office — while, this very morning, I watched as a tiny, sweet-faced old woman berated the station staff with some choice words that aren’t in most Japanese-English dictionaries.

Even long-term couples may go through a series of issues in May.

2. No relationship is safe from Gogatsu-byo

With all this weirdness in the air, people may find that their romantic relationships are changing too. If you have survived the upheaval from last month, you may find that there is a sudden chill in the relationship — whether that be last minute cancellations, fewer text messages, or an overall blasé approach to the relationship. Some people even use the month as an excuse to end relationships that are heading nowhere. 

Based on my own experiences, about 25% of my past relationships have ended in May, while another friend (Japanese male) reported that 40% of his had ended before May 31st. In his words: “May seems like the best time to break off relationships — if you just don’t want to date someone anymore for any reason, May gives you plenty of excuses as to why you don’t have time for them.”

A quick poll of my friends who live or had lived in Japan, showed that more than half of couples had either broken up or seriously reconsidered their relationships in the month of May. One friend even said that she intentionally waited until May to end a relationship she knew had no future.

Turn off the computer and spend some time for yourself. May, too, will pass.

My Advice?

The best thing you can do to get around any Gogatsu-byo is to invest in yourself. Take time out for self-care, talk to people if you need to talk, and don’t let change scare you or get you down. If you are finding that your relationship is going through some unwanted changes or coldness, give it a little time, let things settle back into normalcy, and, if the relationship isn’t giving you what you need anymore, reconsider your options. If it is, then wait patiently until you successfully make it past May and its dreaded Gogatsu-byo, and you can likely weather whatever else is coming your way together. And that includes the coming up rainy season in June, which can be a great chance time for cuddling and stay-at-home fun together!


Facing any issues with your Japanese partner? Want to take the relationship to another level but don’t know how? If you have any questions for Hilary, send an email to editorial@gplusmedia.com and she will answer it in a separate article. Anonymity guaranteed.