Wednesday, 23 June 2004

So apologies for the delay, but when there's magic on tv, well, you've got to watch really haven't you. No? OK, I have to watch, which seems eminently fair to me.

Global Warming

Time was, so I'm reliably informed, when typhoons were an Autumn phenomenom. Certainly when I came to Japan first they seemed to congregate in September and October as a sort of 'Summer-heat-is-over' signal that meant body odour was no longer going to be such a problem for every westerner in Japan.

But it is a measure of how buggered up the weather patterns have become by global warming as last weekend we had typhoon number 6 pass by, and my what a biggy it was too! Usually typhoons seem to hug the coastline, moving up from Taiwan and Okinawa and, once they get to the bottom of Kyushu, either head left towards Korea or veer right along the coast of Honshu, occasionally wandering up past Tokyo but more often that not moving back out to sea. Maybe there is a meterological reason for this, maybe not, but this bugger moved slightly to the right of Kyushu and then just kept going, passing right over Shikoku and Honshu and, in the process, doing its worst.

If you've never been in a typhoon, they are pretty wicked things (or a hurricane, for that matter. By the by, know the difference between a hurricane and a typhoon? Guesses/answers in the comments section please). They start with a stiffening of the breeze about a day before they are going to hit. This can be quite pleasant as they sometimes push cooler air in front, so you get a nice cool breeze, hence everyone quite likes them in Autumn. Then the wind starts to really pick up, and clouds start to form and the air gets wetter. First a few spots of rain, then a steady fall, but not too heavy. Then, an hour or two before it hits, things begin to pick up. The rain gets heavier and the wind really starts to howl over the balcony and through the telegraph wires. When it hits proper it really is time to batten down the hatches. The rain is coming down at 30-40 cms per hour and wind is whistling past at 160kms, heady stuff and hot and sticky too boot. No walking in that, and no surfing, though some always try and a chap died on Sunday off Shikoku trying that very thing (surfing, not walking). All the trains stop running, all the streets are empty, ghost town stuff and the wind howls.

And then it stops.

Absolutely and completely.

Calm in the eye of the storm? You betcha, and it is that which is the strangest thing. No wind, no rain, just stillness and silence after all that noise and fury. And you know it is only for a short time and so its the waiting for the restart that gets you. Because it all starts again with no warning at all, suddenly the wind is howling again and the rain driving horizontally into the buildings and you have to sit it out for another hour or two to wait for things to die down.

When this happens in the Autumn the air after is often beautifully cool, clear and soft, like it has been freshly washed and laundered, which it kind of has, and so the world looks a little brighter and cleaner, everything seems a little sharper and in focus. But with number 6 being at the start of summer it brought with it loads of moist warm air from the south pacific, meaning that on Tuesday the temperatures in Tokyo hit 33 degrees and 37 in Saitama - these are the temperatures we usually see in the dog days of August and are far from pleasant. Last year, in a cooler than usual summer the temp in Tokyo never got above 32, so to hit 33 in June doesn't bode well for a pleasant summer (though aircon manufacturers and brewers have big smiles right now).

As with anything to do with nature in Japan, this is of course dangerous (think earthquakes, volcanoes and mud slides - dangerous country...). 4 people, I think, died because of this typhoon, and all of our new teachers who arrived on Monday were delayed as flights were held, shinkansens cancelled and roads made impassable, all from a bit of rain. Powerful stuff, I guess.

Luckily I got all the plants inside and so all were protected from the ravages of nature, just in case you were worried. Oh, and I'm not sure I've mentioned it but we have some new additions, now we have mint, growing as if its life depended on it, little chilli plants which seem hale and hearty (though no chillis yet) and shiso, or Japanese basil, which I am rapidly discovering doesn't like too much water - god knows how it survives June in this country...

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