Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Plum Rain 梅雨

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Tsuyu, Japan's rainy season. The hydrangeas and irises that cover the countryside in a blossoming blue bonnet would not be the seasonal splendors they are without it. Written with the Chinese characters for plum (or Japanese Apricot), and rain, Tsuyu evokes the image of plump purple plums, sprinked in summer rain, and the ancient Chinese proverb that foretells its coming: "When the rain falls on the ripe plum, rain will follow for forty days after." (Hmmm...rain and 40 days...where have I heard that before?)

Tsuyu may seem mild in comparison to the Biblical allusion, but it sure does drop alot of juice! Infact, Japan is the 4th wettest country on earth (Indonesia is #1, New Zealand #2, the Phillipines #3), thanks to the plum-wetting-raininess that usually begins in early June and lasts until the middle of July.

But the Japanese owe a lot more to Tsuyu that their pretty purple flowers and tasty plums. Tsuyu is the catalyst behind the cultivation of rice, the sacred foundation of Japanese culture and collective consciousness. (Not to mention their incredible sense of Tsuyu fashion, complete with Prada umbrellas and Gucci golashes).

The cultural saturation of Tsuyu is also reflected in the Japanese language, drenched in poetic and colorful expressions for rain: Oame (great rain or downpour), aoba ame (green-leaf rain), to the jewel-like drops of rain that crown the lush green leaves, and kaiu, a rainfall of a strange, darkened hue, accompanied by whirlwinds that drop strange objects from the sky, such as fish. Tsuyu itself is also known as baiyu or samidare, after the 3rd month of the old Japanese calandar, and is broken down into Tsuyunoiri (Nyubai) and Tsuyuake (Shutsubai), the beginning and the end of Tsuyu.

But the tsuyu season isin`t just wet, it`s hot. It's a deadly cycle of rain, which cools things down a bit, followed by intense heat (about 90 degrees) that causes the freshly fallen rain to fill the air with a humid mist that makes people sweat just sitting around. The first day after a good rain is always bright and sunny, the slate grey skies turned a beautiful baby blue, full of puffy, picturesque clouds piling up along the verdant pine ridge of the mountains. The next day is blurred with a steamy mist that fades the colors of the mountains to a distant shade of forest green as the blue of the sky is slowly covered in thin white clouds, like spilled milk. The next day brings a welcome rain, a cool breeze and a shroud that veils the mountains completely, as clouds, thrown down to earth like fallen angels, make it hard to know where heaven ends and earth begins.

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