W is for weather
There’s a big, gaping hole in the logic of the stereotypical Britain, specifically the weather. So, we are known for always talking about the weather, and yet we all live on an island that only sees fog, rain and cold? So what exactly are we talking about, then? “Hey, so how about that rain, eh?” “Yeah, looks exactly the same as yesterday. Pass me the pork pie.”
Anyway, whatever you might think about British folk and their weather fascination, it is nothing – NOTHING! – compared to the Japanese. This is no exaggeration: on a hot summer’s day, you will hear an endless barrage of ‘暑いね’ (‘atsui ne’, or ‘its hot, isn’t it?), in the summer, and the flipside, ‘寒いね’ (‘samui ne’, ‘it’s cold, isn’t it?’) in the winter. No doubt, after a while it will really begin to grate. In your head you will think, in a voice dripping with sarcasm, “Oh, is it? I thought this sweat pouring off my face was one of those winter sweats that I just made up!”
But then you realize that, actually, the basic acknowledgement of the weather serves as more of greeting and a conversation-starter for the typically shy Japanese. After a while you hear it just as a ‘good morning’, and you won’t question it – unless you’re one of those oh-so-witty individuals who respond with “IS IT?”
Though, to be fair, Japan does have a good reason to talk about the weather a lot, because it is INSANE. First, the heat. I am yet to meet anyone who hasn’t found the Japanese summer cooler than their own, and this includes South Africans, Australians and Jamaicans. True, the temperatures may not technically reach the heights of a desert, but what truly cripples anyone who dares to venture outside is the humidity. For about three months, Mother Nature basically treats all of Japan to a mild sauna – nights included. Add to this the fact that the big cities (read: almost anywhere in Japan that is flat) also soak in the Urban Island effect, and you have a delicious recipe for dehydration and heatstroke.
The rainy season that precludes full-on summer is in June, usually running into July, and is accompanied by an orchestra of lightning and thunder conducted by Thor himself. No kidding, the first time I saw one of these storms roll in, I must have stared at it for some 10 minutes figuring out if it was lightning or a fireworks festival. That was 10 minutes too long: I was then hurled head first into ‘Apocalypse: Neptune Edition.” And don’t get me started on typhoons.
On the flipside (and there may be bias here because of my Britness) winters aren’t too bad. Temperature-wise it’s about the same as the UK, definitely need-a-jacket cold, though snow is much more likely. Thankfully the humid haze peels away to reveal dramatic panoramas of the surrounding mountains, which makes me extremely happy because I can see Mount Fuji from my local train station.
But the most striking feature about the Japanese climate is just how localized it is. And I’m not just talking about rain in Kyushu and sunshine in Tokyo, no: we are talking about downpours 30 minutes down the road from where you are bathing in glorious sunshine. Don’t get too smug, though: expect to switch roles in about 10 minutes (vis a vis Apocalypse metaphor above). Sure, you get periods of super-settled weather, mainly in winter, but there are periods of the year when you wonder why invention-savvy Japan hasn’t come up with sunglasses with windshield-wipers yet.