Saturday, 17 August 2013

Changes in the air

As I learned firsthand when I lived here five years ago, Kyouto at this time of year is subject to two distressing meteorological phenomena, and they come pretty much one right after the other. Each leaves one in a state of general moisture, though for very different reasons. The first is the rainy season, called 梅雨、or tsuyu, for reasons entirely unknown to me. It's a special reading for these two characters, the latter of which means “rain,” which makes sense, and the former of which means “plum,” which doesn't. The best explanation I've heard for this is that tsuyu occurs around the time that the plums are beginning to ripen, which I guess sounds reasonable.

But to simply call it by the innocuous title of “rainy season” understates the severity of the condition. It's not quite monsoon level, at least not in most of the country, but the sheer amount of water that falls from the sky is still prodigious. All able-bodied persons are required to keep an umbrella within reach at all times, including while sleeping or showering. In my high school days I was once caught without one for my morning commute, and spent the entire day dripping. The skies are a constant Gibsonian grey, prepared to disgorge their entire contents at a moment's notice.

The rain's enthusiasm is rivaled only by its consistency. Imagine the worst rainstorm you have ever experienced, but then imagine that it also never ended, and is still going on, somewhere deep inside your head, such was its tenacity. Entire weeks are swallowed whole as we neo-Noahs courageously attempt to conduct our daily business in the conceit that we do not appear to be living in the end of days. That said, nearly all of this commentary is actually based on my memories from my high school exchange. This year the rainy season is rather relaxed...suspiciously so, in fact. I can only assume that the sky is stockpiling rain for next year, when it will finally unleash its full fury and kill us all in one fell swoop. Either that or global warming is progressing faster than anticipated.

I could buy that second explanation, in fact, simply based on the events that follow. A nationwide heatwave, peaking at 37 (!) degrees in Kyouto, becomes the day's stop story, and it's only going to get hotter. I begin to wonder if Cologne and I could sublet our room as a nuclear reactor. Worse, though, is the humidity. It wouldn't be nearly so bad if it were a dry heat. As it is, people no longer walk from place to place so much as wade through the atmosphere. If someone were to sneak into my bathroom and turn off the tap while I was showering, I wouldn't even notice. Everyone begins to carry personal oxygen supplies with them everywhere they go.

True sleep has become impossible. The most we can hope for is a sort of deep trance, achieving a kind of restive state but never completely slipping into unconsciousness. We are still generally aware of our surroundings in a dull, irrational way, and frequently fully wake as if coming up for air, an eventuality we fight desperately as we approach the surface, knowing as we do the difficulty of reclaiming rest once we have shaken it off. The common room's peak hours of activity have stretched later and later, as it's pointless to even lie down before at least 1 am. When we do wake, we must drain our beds using an industrial-strength water pump before we are able to clamber out of them. Cologne and I have found ourselves without an aircon, opened the door to our balcony in response, and, when that proved insufficient, did the same with the door to the hallway. Throwing caution to the wolves, we now just keep it like this all the time, as we'll sooner risk having our stuff ganked than face certain death by heat exhaustion.

On the other hand, after the heat reaches a certain point the women more or less stop wearing clothes - leaving me awash in that beautiful bronze skin I love so much - so I think I'm at a net gain in the end.

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