Sunday, March 13, 2011

Brighter side of Japan

The news lately has been appalling, and I can only be thankful that no one I know is caught up in the unfolding tragedy.

But rather than instilling a mortal fear of returning to Japan, the constant coverage from Japan has reminded me how much I would rather be out there.

I think I can be forgiven for briefly putting the more serious issues aside for a moment (there are literally thousands of sites you can read for that, why duplicate them?*), and reminisce on the brighter side of Japan.

The first thing springs to mind is bicycles. I miss riding into work, and god save me if I attempt it here. In Okayama, I could cycle into work, not be run over, and be fairly confident that I would be dry when I got there. Also, you can leave your bicycle damn-near anywhere and it'd still be there when you got back (though sometimes tangled with several other  -the so called "bicycle dominoes" effect-). Indeed, a bicycle becomes something of a necessity in the hotter months, when it is far more refreshing to glide through town on a bicycle than to slog it out on foot.

That brings us to the weather. Lots of Japanese seem surprised when I assure them Britain has four seasons, but then if you spend a whole year in Japan, it kind of makes sense. You get the same seasons, but much more intense. Winter is cold, Okayama wasn't as cold as England perhaps, but when you're in a country without much in the way of central heating, you'll quickly find yourself rushing for a kotatsu, and variously downing meals of nabe, Japanese curry or ramen. Then, just as we turn on the defrost in England, Japan's oven turns on full blast, and you've got about a month or two to enjoy the spectacularly colourful spring before she gets up to temperature. And spring is truly amazing, especially if you like walking around Japanese gardens: it is one explosion of flowers after another, sparked off by the magnificent cherry blossoms. Before long, this leaves you roasting in the Japanese summer. But even in this furnace there is a lot to enjoy, including the annual fireworks festivals, and the occasional thunderstorms which not only cool things down, but are orders of magnitude more impressive than the wimpy English variety. Finally Autumn arrives, which unlike its English counterpart (which seems to exist purely to separate summer and winter, like a rather passive bouncer) is another explosion of colour, this time red (perhaps to warn us of the upcoming winter), and another month or two of mild** weather to enjoy it with.

The nature in Japan is also a big eye-opener for me. Of course, my first impression of Japan was that there wasn't any, because you quickly find out that urbanisation of Japan has been so prolific that most towns and cities have merged into a contiguous network of concrete. Nonetheless, it doesn't take long, especially in more "rural"*** areas to escape to somewhere surrounded by either mountains or fields. And being a country-bumpkin one of the first things I noticed was the different fauna and flora. Bamboo growing wild, spindly spiders that could outstretch my hand, and tree sparrows everywhere. It is a very rich environment to walk through.

The other thing I miss is the hospitality and Japanese way of thinking. Even it if it is superficial, there is nothing like walking into a shop and being hailed by the contagious call of "irashaimase!". While I wouldn't describe the average man-in-the-street as jovial, the Japanese somehow excel at projecting an image of happiness and order when such an image is called for. Its difficult to describe, but a very prominent feature of Japan as I've known it.

I'll just wrap up to say that despite my naive writing here, my thoughts are often with those who haven't been so lucky, and will be long after the news has lost interest.

*that said, there are a few things I'd like to investigate in Japanese myself, since the BBC have said a couple of (minor) things that raised my eyebrow

** not the English mild, which generally seems to mean "hypothermia unlikely". Japanese mild is more like the English summer, climate-wise.

*** again, rural in Japan is completely different from over here. I had the city of Okayama described to me as rural. Being from the green places of Dorset, the idea of a city being in any way rural was completely alien to me

No comments:

Post a Comment