梅雨 tsuyu—rainy season

It’s the rainy season in Japan. Before arriving in Japan, I assumed that during the rainy season it would rain pretty much all the time, or at least most of the time, but it doesn’t. There are some very rainy days (much heavier rain than we are used to in Ireland), and some hot, humid days.

I’ve learned there is something called the 梅雨前線 baiu zensen—rainy season front line—that moves up and down the country. This front line corresponds to a band of very heavy rain. If it happens to be where you live, you get rained on (a lot); otherwise it’s just hot and muggy.

The high temperatures and humidity are manageable during the day, although they sap your energy and make it difficult to contemplate going outside. But at night it is extremely uncomfortable and difficult to sleep. Until now we have been sleeping downstairs in the washitsu, because it’s just more convenient. We have no air conditioning downstairs, but we have been able to manage with just the fan.

Last night, however, the night-time temperature tipped up to around 30 degrees, making it very difficult to sleep. So from tonight we’ve decided to make the big move to sleeping upstairs in air-conditioned comfort.

In reality, of course, it’s not such a big move. We don’t have a bed, so it’s just a matter of rolling out the bedding upstairs every evening instead of downstairs.

For me, there is a strange cognitive dissonance when you’re driving along and it’s grey and cloudy outside, looking for all the world like an autumn evening in Ireland, and then you look at the car’s outside temperature display and realise that it’s over 30 degrees outside. When you arrive and open the car door you expect to encounter chill shivery air, because that’s what it looks like outside; that’s what all your Irish experience tells you to expect. But instead you get hit with a blast of warm moist air.

When it does rain, it rains with impressive intensity. An inch of rain per hour would be quite extreme in Ireland – here it’s quite possible to have 4 inches per hour. But it doesn’t flood, at least not here. There are plenty of drainage channels to carry all the excess rainfall off to the rivers and the sea.

In Kumamoto prefecture this week, people have been less lucky. The baiu zensen lingered over Kyushu and dumped an incredible amount of rain on them; around 18 inches over two days. Several people were killed by landslides and over 300,000 have had to evacuate their homes.

Note on the word of the day:

梅雨 pronounced tsuyu or baiu, means “plum rain”. This is the time of year when the plums are ready for harvest; first green plums for making ume-shu plum alcohol and then ripe plums for eating.

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