Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Four Seasons

Growing up in Illinois, I experienced four fairly distinctly changing seasons. Winter was the most insistent, coming as early as late October and staying till April, but averaging five to six months of the year. Summer was next longest, solidly occupying the period from June to Labor Day, after which school began again. Spring and Fall were shorter, less predictable, and therefore very precious and desirable.

Which is why, when I moved to the central area of Honshu, Japan, I was so delighted to find that seasons changed rather predictably and evenly, spaced out about three months a piece, and each with its own characteristics that seemed very Japanese to me.

One reason for this is Japan's custom of NOT changing the clocks twice a year to create Daylight Savings Time. You feel the seasons more distinctly due to the changing hour of sunrise and sunset, of how early nature rises in the summer, along with the sun. For example, in summer, the song of the cicadas is really deafening in the early morning, growing more intrusive from dawn's light on, till it inevitably wakens me by 6 a.m. or so. Can you identify cicada song? If you live near any forests, you may know what I mean. I don't have a conscious memory of cicadas in Naperville, although my neighborhood had its share of trees. But maybe I've grown more sensitive to sound as an adult.

The Japanese word for cicada is semi. There is an imitation of their song in Japanese, too. It's like saying (do, re,) " mi, mi~, mi~~, mi, mi~, mi~~" although in my opinion it's awfully difficult to put into the words an accurate verbal representation of their song. (I use the phrase "song" rather loosely here; there isn't much of a melody because it is almost entirely percussion.) All I know is they are really noisy insects and will dominate the airwaves for nearly two months of summer. Only another five or six weeks to go...sigh.

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