Monday, 14 November 2005

The howling wind

So the north wind started blowing on Sunday, the Kogarashi, signalling the start of winter proper and so, as if my magic, everyone was wearing overcoats, gloves and scarves on the train this morning, as if it had been announced on the NHK news that Monday was winter clothes day. Odd, as today wasn’t all that cold, and nor was yesterday, for that matter, but there you go. In Japan it gets a bit like that at times, the ‘official’ time to start doing things, I mean. Schools, apparently, are the worst for it. In the middle of a very warm autumn the principal will consult his (or her) calendar and decide that the winter has started and so every student must wear warm clothes, even if it means losing 3 pints of sweat on the way to school in the morning. Conversely, in spring, it can be sweltering and yet it is not officially ‘warm’ yet so the students have to stay wearing their winter woollies whilst the rest of the country has moved onto cool cottons. Of course in neither of the above cases will the warmth of the weather affect the length of high school girl’s skirts, which of course will redefine ‘mini’ (and I’m not talking about the car).

But all of this rambling hides another important insight into Japan and the Japanese, namely that firstly, Japan is quite a cold country in winter and that secondly, Japanese people are not very good at the cold. Japanese gentlemen, for example, invariably wear long underwear in winter, well, not even in winter, they are now when the temperature is about 18 degrees (and here’s another weird thing. When I first left the UK in 1996 I worked in Celsius, i.e. a hot summer’s day was 28 or 30. now, when I go back, everyone seems to be fecking about Fahrenheit, or something, and talking about temperatures in the 80s. I didn’t pursue this when I was back, but I’m sure I remember my family saying this was always so, but I do not remember it this way and I am sure someone is messing with my mind. Whoever it is, stop it and give me back my Celsius (and now I know, when I am back for Christmas, we’ll all be back to Celsius again and I’ll be even more confused)).

I digress – er, long underwear, all men over the age of about 30 seem to wear, judging by my experience of gym and onsen changing rooms, not that I hang around them, I hasten to add, just I have found myself in them, on occasion. Anyway, it is not even cold yet but already the long johns are out, or rather in. Surely, I would expect, that Japanese men would have got used to the fact that for about three or four months a year the temperature is a bit cooler than in, say the summer. This is also manifest in our office, which I find stiflingly hot all year round, as do the other foreigners, but the Japanese staff find cool and uninviting in winter. Now I expect someone is going to say ‘yes, but they’re all used to the heat in summer, but you’re not’ and this is true to an extent, but then again the Japanese office staff have a good old moan on the really hot days just like the rest of us, so not even sure about that one.

So of course in winter the heating gets cranked up everywhere to compensate for the cool blood of the majority. This isn’t too bad if you are out shopping as you can remove your jacket if you are wearing one, but in the depths of winter, when jacket and overcoat is required, it can be very hard work in a packed subway train when the heating is on full tilt. The train man doesn’t seem to realise that a train running at 110% capacity withal the punters wearing many layers probably doesn’t need the heating on as well, because all the bodies present are generating a bit of warmth, but no. But I do realise that it is probably only me that feels this way, otherwise there would be a few more complaints to Tokyo Metro and so I guess they ain’t gonna change anything for me (see, I can be self perceptive sometimes).

But anyway, today was scarves and gloves and I’ve only recently gone back to wearing a suit jacket to work every day, won’t be long before my glasses are steaming up on entering the train of a morning.


Last weekend, being the last weekend in autumn, probably, meant it was time for the Kawaguchi festival. I might have written about this last year or the year before, not sure but this is quite a pleasant little thing. What happens is the local council, realising that they ought to do something useful with the golf course, close it to sad little people who want to hit balls for the first Sunday in November and open to everyone. On the fairways and greens they erect tents and mark plots and then everyone in the city comes to enjoy themselves. There is a flea market, for those itching to buy cast offs, there are stalls selling food and drink, there is, and I love this, a crazy golf putting game for those who can’t do without their fix for even a couple of hours, plus cultural things like Mikoshi (portable shrines) to lug about and shout washoi whilst you’re doing it (something I have done, a long time ago, in the festival around around Tomioka-Hachimangu Shrine in Monzen-Nakacho, an old downtown part of Tokyo, and I can safely say those mikoshi are bloody heavy). It was all very jolly except for the fact that it was grey and overcast and generally pretty miserable weather. Oh well. But the good thing about the whole shebang was that Marcus got to sit on the grass and get excited with a bunch of his little mates who were born around the same time. The Guru, of course, had a little gang of pregnant pals when she was thus and, as support groups naturally grow, kept in touch and meets up with them on numerous occasions. Usually this is at one of the community centres nearby, but on Sunday they could meet on the golf course. It may not sound much, but for him, sitting on grass was quite an experience, especially with his pal Shunta. But even better than that was that Dad took him to sit in one of the bunkers and so he got to play with sand for the first time ever. Of course this was completely fascinating as he had never been able to pick the floor up before and watch it slip through his fingers (and we even manged to avoid the dog sh*t).

So he had fun, the Guru enjoyed herself as could chat with pals, Dad met some other Dads for the first time and we sat around feeling a little awkward, as I’m sure fathers do all around the world in such circumstances (but they were all very nice and most complimentary of my Japanese (the kidders)).

And there was even a miniature railway for the kids to sit on, but I think that may be next year’s treat.

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