The Japanese and the Weather
Up until now, I’ve been keeping my JET Program blog posts on a separate blog. I want to blog more regularly, but have no desire to devote the time necessary to keep two blogs up at once, so I’m merging it into this blog. The now defunct blog is here.
Since the Japanese are more concerned about online identity protection and I work with kids in particular, all Japanese persons I mention are given nicknames.
Yesterday, it was very windy. That was great. It’s been upwards of and sometimes around 30 degrees celsius here in Nakagawa for the past 2-3 weeks, well past the usual point where the weather breaks and things start to cool off. It was still hot, but the wind made things bearable. Overjoyed, I left my house in the morning — by bike, as usual — and greeted the elementary school students as I passed them on my way to work*.
Taikyuu responded to my greeting with a worried look and worried words.
Taikyuu: It’s dangerous, Lena-sensei!
Me: (stopping, not sure I’d heard correctly) What?
Taikyuu: It’s dangerous! The wind is strong. Please be careful.
I assured him that I would be careful and carried on. This isn’t the first such exchange we’ve had. though it’s the first time he’s warned me about the wind. He’s a good kid, he knows me better than most of the other students in town since we both do taiko, and he seems to have become quite attached to me (which is really nice, actually). He tends to get really worried when he sees me doing something that isn’t wholly safe, though.
I thought he was being a bit silly, but my bike and I almost got blown sideways later that day.
That got me thinking. The Japanese are very particular about how they react to certain weather conditions, and they’re very conscientious about checking the weather forecast in the morning.
Rain is a good example of the particularity I’m talking about. The Japanese are very concerned about catching a cold from the rain, and everyone uses umbrellas. No one just shrugs the rain off. You can’t shrug the rain off, really, even if you want to. Heaven knows I’ve tried, but I’ve discovered that avoiding the inconvenience of carrying an umbrella around is not worth having to fight off people trying to make me take an umbrella when I leave someplace. In my small town, every business has extra umbrellas and won’t let you leave without borrowing one. The schools have extra umbrellas, too. City convenience stores stock cheap, plastic umbrellas for ¥100, which sell like mad on rainy days. If you don’t have an umbrella, someone will find you an umbrella and make sure you will get home dry. Even if home is only two minutes away.
And, of course, since it’s dangerous to ride a bike in the rain with an umbrella (the road and sidewalks are potentially slippery, you have to use one hand to hold the umbrella, reduced visibility, etc.), you can’t ride a bike on rainy days. Poor little carless me has found that extremely frustrating because it doubles the time I need to get to my farthest school… the vice-principal of which expressly forbade me from riding my bike to school on rainy days shortly after I first got here.
It’s safe to say that Japan’s obsession with umbrellas on rainy days is one of the things I find most frustrating about their culture. However, Japan is an island nation at the juncture of three tectonic plates that gets some pretty serious typhoons. I can’t really blame them for having a healthy regard for the damage nature can do.
*My house is right across the street from the elementary school, and I was headed to the Board of Education at the other end of town. I see the elementary schoolers almost every weekday morning, even if I’m not going to be at their school that day.