text and photo by Grigoris A. Miliaresis
While linguists continue debating whether the Inuit (the ones who until recently we called “Eskimos”) have 50 different words for “snow” or not, anyone who tries to learn Japanese will soon discover the less advertised fact that the particular language has several dozen words for “rain”. And those among them who visit Japan and stay for a couple of weeks or three will realize why: there isn’t any period of any season when it doesn’t rain –be it less or more, for a few minutes of for two consecutive days and nights with drops imperceptible like a spray or as big as a tea saucer. The comment voiced by some expatriates that Japan doesn’t have four seasons but one, the rainy season, sounds somewhat spiteful –and it usually is- but isn’t very far from the truth.
Not that Japan has one climate: the country is big enough to have six climatic zones varying from the humid continental of Hokkaido, similar to the climate of Central Europe to the subtropical of Okinawa, not unlike the climate of Mexico, India and almost all Africa. And if we also factor in the idiosyncrasies added by its proximity to the mainland Asia, the endless mountains reminding the Highlands of Scotland, the two big currents Kuroshio and Oyashio, the monsoon at the beginning of summer and the typhoons at its end and until mid-autumn, the weather becomes complicated enough to offer countless opportunities for everyday small talk. But if there is one dominant element in all these meteorological variations, it is the omnipresent rain.
In the struggle against it, the Japanese test their organizational skills: umbrellas and raincoats of any conceivable kind are sold anytime, anywhere, when it rains stores cover their –invariably paper- shopping bags with special plastic covers (delightful detail: to alert unsuspecting customers and personnel that rain has started, big department stores play “Singing in the rain” from their PA systems), in the entrances of public buildings and shops appear special devices that wrap wet umbrellas so they won’t drip inside, there are umbrella stands and hooks even in the most impossible places, cafés and restaurants offer towels to soaked customers and the shouten-gai (商店街), the commercial districts often feature canopied sidewalks. And even though nothing of the above actually stops the rain, combined they offer the sense –or at least the illusion- that the situation is a little more bearable.
Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years.