Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Summer is coming ...

The weather is warm, the insects are out, and summer is in the air. Riding home, swallows flit over the river and dive bomb my bicycle, chittering madly. In the late evening air, tiny bats replace them to ghost along the paths, circling the lamp posts and flicking through the arc of my bicycle light. The turtles bask on the rivers' edge beneath hovering dragonflies, and the afternoons are lazy with the warmth of early summer. Soon it will turn from pleasant, comfortable days in the shade to the buzzing furnace of high summer, when the air throbs with the hum of cicadas and drips with the constant, steamy humidity of Japanese summer.

Between now and then lie the rainy months of June and July, which the locals call tsuyu. Last year tsuyu didn't really come to this side of Japan, or if it did it is overrated; and although the first storms of this year broke like clockwork on the 29th May, there has not yet been much sign of a break from the perfect May weather. Everyone has paused, breathless before the next change, which in this country seems to happen so perfectly and suddenly. I am so used to summer in Australia, however, when the days just keep getting longer and drier and the months stretch out in a desolate, dusty eternity before me, that I cannot believe it will happen. It is hard to comprehend a summer which bursts over the country in mid-June, flares briefly and intensely in August, and then is gone by the end of September. Four months! One of them mostly rain, and another two only middling hot.

Summer is also the season of festivals, when the Japanese come out to celebrate the middle of the year with beer and fires. There is the hotaru festival in early June, when we visit dark forests to watch the fireflies; then in August we have Obon, the festival of the dead, when people light fires to guide their dead relatives back to their homes; and straight after, hanabi, the firework festival. Japan in summer is about fire and water, and the omnipresent celebration of the passing of things.


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