Monday, 23 February 2004

The howling wind

Last week, as is its won't, Haru-ichiban made its presence felt. Haru-ichiban is the spring wind in Japan and the harbringer of warmer weather, so when it blows for the first time in a year, it a sure sign that spring is on its way. It is not really up there with the big and famous winds in the world (the mistral, the sirocco, both my granfathers) but the Japanese like it. Just to give you all a quick lesson in meterology, during the winter a huge mass of cold air squats brooding and resentful over China, Korea and Russia. This air then tries to take over Japan as well, but has difficulty because of the Sea of Japan. So all the cold air rushes off the steppes, hits and sea and slows right down until it hits the Japanese coast, whereupon it sort of gives up and dumps prodigous amounts of snow all over the west coast and the mountains. So if you think of the shape of Japan, you can roughly split the main island of Honshu into two long halves, with the Sea of Japan coast and Hokkaido getting huge amounts of the white stuff from November to March, whereas the East coast, places like Tokyo, get very little indeed. For winter sports enthusiasts, the southern and northern Japanese alps and the mountains of Hokkaido are home to some of the very best powder snow in the world.

Now as you have probably worked out, all this is brought by the winds blowing from the north and west. But then along comes out friend Haru-ichiban, puffing away from the south and blows all the cold air away, bringing the scent of warmth and spring time. Sounds a bit romantic that, it would be if it didn't blow at about gale force 7 (rising steadily). It also brought with it some rain, which was welcome relief as we haven't had any rain for about a month or so, very dry winter this one, so the grass on the river bank was very happy (well, what is left of the grass after the local council had flame throer practice earlier in the week and burnt much of it to ash - now we have black banks, not pleasant to look at at all). So anyway, that was last week, which made Haru-ichiban 18 days earlier than average, which could well mean we are in for a really hot summer this year. Oh great...


Myself and the good Guru were out and about on Sunday, as it was such a nice day with the wind blowing, and we saw some of the whales that Japan catches for its scientific research projects. It was 458 yen per 100grams in Oh! Kawa supermarket over in Todakoen. Bit crap that really. But it did make me think, as Oh! Kawa is not some sort of specialist fish or whalemeat seller, it is just a bog-standard supermarket and home store. So what was it doing with whalemeat on it shelves? Who knows.

Now I do, after having done a quick bit of research - the things I do. I wandered over to the wonderfully biased Japan Whaling Association and had a gander around their site and apparently the Japanese are allowed to catch 4-600 whales a year for their scientific research. Now as this is an expensive business, they are conveniently allowed to sell some of the bits they don't study to supermarkets, who sell it onto the punters in the street, to subsidise the costs of catching the things. Lucky that. So around 2,000 tonnes a year finds its way to the supermarket shelves every year, even in places like Oh! Kawa in Todakoen.

Now my mother always told me 'try everything once'. I'm still recovering from the dabbling in smack and watching snuff movies, but I'm not sure about eating whale. I have eaten some strange things here in Japan, a lot of them only once, some more often (raw horse meat, for example, very nice with fresh ginger, spring onions and soy sauce), but I think there is something morally wrong with eating whales, so for once I am not going to do what my mother says.

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