Reading the Air: weather

Japanese weather 5It’s difficult to describe the climate in Japan. Most foreigners who live or stay here find it unique, and no doubt that is due to the massive land mass to the north and west of the islands of Japan, and the massive expanse of the Pacific Ocean to the north-east and south.: China, Mongolia and Siberia stand solid, sabre-brandishing to the rear, while we look out to arctic and tropical clear waters conquered by Indian pirates and Pacific island marathon canoeists determined to find more stable land.

The phrase ‘Far East’ is not an exaggeration when you live here. Somehow, the geographical location and the cultural separation does make it seem far away from anything and anyone. Occasionally the strange feeling arises of not knowing how you came to be here, or Japanese weather 1how or why you have stayed so long, in this volcanic land where mountains explode unexpectedly and the ground shakes so violently that it turns the Pacific Ocean turbulent. Earthquakes? Volcanoes? Typhoons? The Wet season? Unprecedented humidity? Were such extreme conditions intended for us from our birth in the industrial ‘enlightened’ west?

Such extremes of weather perhaps provoke extreme behaviour. People are excitable en masse when a typhoon is approaching because Japan is so exposed, even though it generally passes by only lightly fingering the coasts and producing endless rain in its Japanese weatherwake. Only the other day a mountain, regularly climbed by ageing hikers, suddenly exploded injuring many of them with ash and rock fall. This was a shocking sign that below the surface of these high-tech and orderly islands, there is a bubbling cauldron balanced on plates of the earth which suddenly move, stubbing against each other and upsetting the molten rock.

Never has the impermanence of things been so close at hand. Never have we felt so exposed to nature’s pain and impatience for balance and partnership. The extremes of excitement bordering on hysteria contrast with silence and stillness unknown in Japanese weather 4the west.

The flush of summer is over and autumn approaches making people’s sadness a self-fulfilling prophesy as winter does the Sakura-joy of Spring. But the humidity still creeps up the full-length trouser legs and prevents sitting as it did in full summer. A constant towel to dab at the sweat, and an elegant fan for arrivals and waiting periods outside still need to be at the fingertips. While habitual short sleeves may bring on a chill as arctic air conditioning will be used until winter truly arrives in December when it will magically transform into blistering hot air. The native people are so sensitive to temperature, so lacking in body weight, their beautiful flesh lying close to strong white bones.

The weather gods are ever-present here on these ancient islands. We must appease them by going to the shrine, offering a coin or two and shaking the rough rope of the bell. Closing of the eyes, a temple stepsnational pastime, and bringing together of the palms in gassho, followed by a vigorous clapping once or twice may keep us safe, but will it indicate what to wear to be comfortable in such climate shifts. Kimono would be  a safe bet in any condition.

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