Japan may proudly wear it’s four distinct seasons like a badge of pride. But I would like to nominate two extra candidates for the list, so the full year calendar runs as thus: spring, typhoons, summer, typhoons, autumn and then winter. The jury is still out on whether there should be a season between winter and spring called OMFGhayfeverIwanttoclawmyeyesoutandripmynoseoff season.
Typhoons are pretty big deals in Japan, being the equivalent to the American Hurricanes that rip along the east coast. Quite literally: despite popular belief there is no technical difference between a typhoon and a hurricane. The word merely gives you an idea of the location where you’re likely bump into one (hurricanes being a mid-Altantic thing while typhoons are for the Asia-side of the Pacific).
Zooming in on Japan’s relationship with typhoons, then. Interestingly, the Japanese word for typhoon is ‘taifuu’ (台風), which sounds remarkably similar to the English word. That is a great mystery of etymology: the English word ‘typhoon’ derives from the ancient Greek ‘Typhon’, a mythical creature known as ‘the father of the winds’. Meanwhile, in the Asian origin of the word derives from the Ancient Chinese 大風, which reads as ‘dhah-fun’ (kind of). Read it aloud and you can hear how it not just influenced the Japanese word of ‘taifuu’ but also sounds really similar to the English word too. Experts in the field have never really been able to explain why this is. Strange huh? I might just consider becoming an etymologist.
As mentioned back in my W is for Weather post, the Japanese outdo even us Brits for talking about the weather, and no weather event is more eventful than a typhoon. The exact path of each typhoon heading Japan’s way is meticulously tracked across endless scrolling weather reports or on the computer screens of every office worker in Japan who will hit the refresh button every minute to watch it inch closer across the archipelago.
Not that typhoons don’t deserve attention, mind you: they absolutely do. They regularly leave destruction and devastation the wake, occasionally claiming lives. The immediate threat of a typhoon are the horizontal rain and high winds which people try in vain to fight through with crumpled umbrellas, only to find that all of the trains or delayed or even stopped. And because typhoons dump a huge amount of rain as they swirl by, the follow-up danger comes in the form of floods and landslides – a huge threat in a country where you’re more likely than not to be either living on flat land, in the shadow of a mountain, or both.
In true Japanese fashion, though, it’s all taken with a calm matter-of-fact-ness. Typhoons aren’t given names in Japan but just numbers. News doesn’t zoom in on personal horror stories but just gives you the straight facts from the figurative and literal distance of a helicopter camera. Which, I guess, is also down to the fact that there’s just so many typhoons: An average of 11 of them strike per year, and they are clustered tightly into period just before and just after summer. Japan is custom-built and battle-born for natural disasters, though, and while typhoons will always be a hair-raising (well, hair-dampening) experience, there’s no country on Earth better prepared to handle them.