The Heat

"The heat"

Summer Haiku often end with this short phrase, such as here in this haiku.

a pigeon pacing
at the edge of bamboo...
the heat

But perhaps there is a better haiku, by Issa, to summarize the feeling in Japan right now:

so hot! so hot!
is a chore

It has been very hot in Japan for the past couple weeks. I guess it is also hot in the States from what I hear. I was about to say that Americans are better equipped to deal with the heat than Japanese are, but perhaps this depends on what you consider to be well equipped.

Japanese homes are very poorly insulated (in my opinion) In the summer they quickly become hotter than the temperature outside and in the winter, it is often just as cold, or colder than it is outside. There are heating and cooling options, which have improved since I last lived here (9 years ago) but they are mostly too expensive (air conditioning) or unsafe to use for extended periods of time (kerosene heaters). This results in several rather uncomfortable weeks for those unaccustomed to these conditions at the summer and winter peaks.

Although it is very uncomfortable for me, Japanese do not seem to suffer to the same degree that I do on account of the weather. Many foreign visitors to Japan will observe that many Japanese hardly seem to sweat at all, while non-Japanese walk around outside looking like we just put on our clothes straight out of the washer without bothering to dry them (which you might as well do at this time of year). Another reason foreigners tend to stick out in Japan is because they always wear shorts in the summer. Although it's been very hot the past couple weeks, most Japanese people I see are wearing long pants or jeans. Today, in fact, with temperatures in the upper 90s and a fairly high humidity, I saw a middle aged man riding his bike in the sun, WEARING A COAT! I could hardly believe it.

In the winter there are obvious differences between Japanese and non-Japanese who live here. Elementary school boys' uniform requires shorts to be worn year round. Girls' junior high and high school uniforms require skirts year round. Although it seems that most schools give the option of wearing tights during the winter months, from what I recall, most girls do not opt to wear them. When I lived here 9 years ago I also remember walking through my neighborhood after a snowfall and seeing more than one person out shoveling snow in thongs (heh heh heh, no, not that kind, I mean flip-flops).

In the US, however, we will often heat our homes in the winter so that we can walk around inside comfortably in shorts and a t-shirt. Our central air systems allow us to economically cool our homes in the summer, sometimes to the point that we need to put on a sweater. We have constructed homes and places of work so that they can be comfortable regardless of the weather outside. America seems to be more "convenient" in this way, I suppose.

Here is where a key difference in Japanese and American thinking becomes evident, I believe. Americans have adapted their surroundings in order to make themselves more comfortable. Japanese seem to have adapted to the environment instead. Although you will still hear complaints about the heat and the cold from Japanese people, they seem to be less affected by it than those of us not accustomed to living here.

When I lived here before I remember trying to make the extreme temperatures more bearable by taking on the mindset that I was living closer to nature. Traditionally I think the Japanese have viewed themselves as being a part of nature, as opposed to the more Western idea of controlling nature. (I could be wrong, but it seems so) I think that one of the messages of the animated film, Princess Mononoke from Hayao Miyazaki, 1997?) was finding a balance between these two philosophies.

So who, after all, is better equipped to deal with the extreme heat and cold of winter and summer? Americans are probably more comfortable, as long as there is no power outage or other complication, but I think I would say that the Japanese are better equipped. Since they have conditioned themselves better to the elements of nature, they seem be overall better adapted for extremes. I've always believed that the more technology we use, although it makes our lives easier, the more dependent on it we become.

This post has not ended up as what I had originally planned. It's not even necessarily taiko related, but seeing as we are in the middle of a two week holiday, where we won't be having any taiko practice, it's a good filler. Not to worry, this Friday and Saturday is when we finally travel to Kodo's Earth Celebration on Sado Island. I imagine I'll have a good deal to share following that trip, hopefully with pictures and videos.

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