Tag Archives: autumn

年末年始

ginkgo

I love living in Tokyo, and after the heat of the summer I always look forward to the chill in the air as autumn arrives, to crisp days of blue skies and bright sunshine, to the vivid yellow ginkgo leaves and the flaming red maples.

autumn colours kamiyacho

But there is also something heavy in my heart, I suppose it’s the end of the year and I’m running on empty, but there’s still lots to do. It’s the season of 年末年始 or ‘nen matsu nen shi’, the end of one year and the beginning of the next.

It’s time to buy New Year cards and the special stamps to stick on them, to check with the people you usually send cards whether they have been bereaved this year, in which case, no card for them. It would be inappropriate to send them a ‘Happy New year’ greeting. If you have been bereaved in the past year, the onus is actually on you to send out a different kind of card to pre-empt the sending of New Year cards, reminding or informing people that you are in mourning and therefore not sending or receiving cards this year. I have found that people often just mention it in passing instead of sending the cards, but if you do send the cards then there are special postage stamps for them, too. I have bought my New Year cards, I have bought the special stamps (2014 being the year of the horse, so the stamps have little cartoon horses on them), and I have asked around to see who should not receive a card, so I’m all ready, I just have to write them all now.

new year stamps 2014

It’s also the bonenkai season (忘年会), time for a year-end party at work or with friends. Sometimes in English these social occasions get called Christmas party or dinner, but it’s dinner and/or drinks with friends, it’s the end of the year, it’s a bonenkai. Of course, this also means that there will be more passengers on the evening trains who have been drinking, and so there is a poster in Metro stations:

drunk on platform poster‘Ah! Dangerous! Take care on days when you have drunk too much alcohol,’ the poster warns. While it also mentions that walking and texting is dangerous, it helpfully informs us that 63.5% of people who fall off the platform have been drinking. This goofy poster is apparently part of a drive to have no ‘platform incidents’.

tokyo tower

Christmas is all over Tokyo. Well, Christmas trees, various assorted Santas and reindeer, and adverts for large buckets of chicken followed by strawberry shortcake, the perfect Christmas dinner, brought to you by KFC and 7-eleven. Really. This photo was taken at Tokyo Tower, you can just see the bottom of one of the legs. Think Eiffel Tower, painted red and white. There is an enormous Christmas tree under the tower, and a kind of winding maze of plastic illuminated reindeer, and when I walked past a couple of weeks ago there were a lot of high school girls wandering amongst the reindeer. An instant bucolic idyll, 21st-century Tokyo-style.  Just across the road was this display, angels heralding an office building.

shiba decorations

There are Christmas carols everywhere; my local shopping street has been playing them over the loudspeaker system for a while now. It’s rather odd, and always reminds me of The Prisoner, I feel I am being forced into Christmas early, and all the cutesy, jingly versions of songs and carols are quite surreal. Equally surreal will be the speed with which it all vanishes by December 26th to be replaced by New Year decorations.

So boo, it’s almost the end of the year, and there is still so much to do. Time to finish up the term at school, get all the paperwork finished. Time to do Christmas shopping and write cards (and then New Year cards). Time to pack a suitcase and head back to the UK for a fortnight. So much to do before that. It’s enough to make you feel so exhausted you might fall asleep on someone on the train . . . but that would be inconsiderate, so the latest manner poster addresses it:

manner poster sleepingI do love living in Tokyo. In late autumn and winter the days are usually bright and sunny. I can see Mount Fuji from the train and I’m surrounded by the vibrant colours of Mother Nature’s last hurrah before she hunkers down to wait for spring. It’s good to spend time with friends celebrating the end of another year, it’s good to look forward to travelling. I just wish I had maybe a week or two more and a bit more energy.

Walking through Shibuya station yesterday evening I saw a Buddhist monk standing in the midst of all the commuters. People were rushing about, and in the middle of it all he stood praying and waiting for alms. Just standing there while rush hour carried on around him. Part of Shibuya station is pretty much a construction site at the moment, so there’s the added chaos that brings. He was just standing there, doing his thing, and I thought again, I do love Tokyo.

monk in shibuya

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Japan has four seasons

If you have never been to Japan, the title of this post probably seems to state the obvious. You may, like me, be dredging up ‘O’ Level geography, and thinking, what’s so surprising about that? Surely Japan has a temperate climate? For anyone who lives, or has lived in Japan, the reaction is more likely to be, oh, that old chestnut. Or, to put a katakana slant on it, that old marron.

Japanese people are very proud of their four seasons, and feel that this makes Japan special in some way. Since it can be a rather frustrating statement, I have, on occasion attempted to point out that this is not something to be filed under ‘Japanese uniqueness’, and have been rewarded with vehement shakes of the head, and the insistence that Japan having four seasons is somehow different from any other country with a temperate climate having the same. I have even, in another attempt to disagree with the statement, pointed out that surely, Japan has five, since there is also the ‘rainy season’ (梅雨) from roughly June 10th to July 10th, but that also is met with incredulity, denial, and repetition of the mantra that ‘Japan has four seasons’.

Clearly, Japanese, like many languages, has four words for the seasons; spring (春), summer (夏), autumn (秋) and winter(冬). So where is this idea coming from, that Japan is somehow different? I would say that Japan is different because Japanese people react differently to the change of seasons. Even in Tokyo, or maybe especially in a huge city like Tokyo, we watch the seasons come and go, we look forward to the cherry blossoms, the autumn colours, we notice the months passing by the fruit and vegetables in the shops, and we take time to enjoy the changes. I remember as a child looking forward to running through the fallen leaves, I remember my grandfather getting roasted chestnuts from somewhere, but as an adult the arrival of autumn meant putting the clocks back, the nights drawing in, and a kind of bracing for the greyness to be endured before the joy of spring.

For a few years, when I first lived in Japan, I found the cherry blossom-viewing season a bit much, I didn’t really understand the eagerness to get out there and look at the blossoms. I don’t remember exactly when I started to feel differently, but these days I feel as if I am almost holding my breath, watching the buds on the trees, just waiting for Tokyo to turn pink. I look forward to buying sakura-flavoured tofu, to meeting friends and wandering around under the trees. I still don’t see the attraction of sitting under the trees with a generator to power a karaoke machine, but maybe that, too, will come with time.

The rainy season, apparently not a season but still called one, is the soggy month we go through before the heat and humidity of the summer really set in. Its Japanese name, 梅雨, is the kanji for ‘plum’ and ‘rain’, but the reality is far less poetic. Some years we have a fairly dry rainy season, but a wet rainy season is an unpleasant experience. The summer that follows it is long and humid and drags on until around the end of September, though by the second half of the month it is noticeably cooler and less humid.

Maybe because it is so long and draining we look forward to the autumn. Almost spookily, the autumn equinox seems to bring a marked drop in temperatures; there’s a chill in the air and anyone still wearing anything short-sleeved will be asked often, aren’t you cold?  In fact, as I was writing this the newspaper man arrived with the bill for this month, and the first thing he said was, it’s got cold, hasn’t it? Yes, it has, but the temperature is still around mid-teens celsius  every day with no need for heating yet, at least in Tokyo. I know the UK is already a lot colder.

The autumn colours can be spectacular, and just as there are places known to be especially good for cherry blossom viewing (お花見) there are also places famous for their ‘red leaves’ (紅葉), but really, you don’t have to go far. This afternoon I walked down to Senzoku Ike (洗足池) or Senzoku Pond and found the early signs of autumn and some leaves already starting to turn. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, slightly breezy, and there were a lot of people out enjoying the park. I found trees laden with pomegranates and persimmons,

     

I saw turtles basking in the sun,

and a gingko tree with bright yellow leaves against the blue sky.

Japan has four seasons. A lot of other countries do too, but Japan is different, not because of the number but because so many people make time to go outside and appreciate them.