When I came to Osaka six years ago in June of 2012, I experienced my first Kansai summer. At the time, it was also my first encounter with heavy humidity. It seemed novel then (rain.. in summer?!), but later after making the move to Japan, I would discover the ills that a humid summer can bring.. including heat rash, swollen mosquito bites, and typhoons.
Summer has never been a particularly favorite season of mine, especially when it means staying indoors due to heat, rain, or both. Yet, despite the downsides of a wet and sticky season, there is something about summer that is both drowsy and electric, punctuated by the popping of 花火 (hanabi: fireworks) and the buzz of insects. It seems fitting that as I write this blog post, the rain streams sideways against the window glass, and my ears are full of the sounds of overflowing gutters. However, it was 3 years ago, while living in Asakusa in Tokyo, that I first began to describe the feeling of an island summer, as sampled below.
Shiny black and dyed brown hair, men and women patting sweat from their necks and foreheads with handkerchiefs, and the view from a high-rise window of people walking, umbrellas in hand. Rain patters down earthquake-proof, reinforced glass. Heels clap against the pavement, and monotonous safety announcements caution passengers through train loudspeakers. The early morning light is always prematurely bright- as steaming rice machines fill a kitchen with warmth, and laundry flutters in the breeze. This is summer in Japan.
It smells green and feels heavy, the night alive and buzzing to the hum of cicadas. The air beats warm, wrapping around skin like steam, and mosquitoes swarm the lights above sidewalks. The trains are full of salarymen carrying briefcases and women clutching bags, their nails manicured. Most passengers stare at the backlit screens of cellphones, or crinkled newspapers and unfinished work documents.
Others nap, their limbs sprawling, heads bobbing and backs arched stiffly forward. A woman is standing, unaware that the end of the umbrella she rests on her arm is stabbing those seated in front of her. The offended persons say nothing, too tired to complain.
Outside, the darkness grows. Someone lets loose a laugh that has been waiting until after-hours to escape. Two elementary school kids exchange stories, and evade thoughts of homework for a little while longer. The night envelopes the city in muted softness.
Yet, the light of karaoke and restaurant billboards persists, the main streets are full of taxis, and the signage in side-streets glow, casting shadows. The alleys are nearly empty, and smell of damp pavement and cigarette smoke. A policeman bikes down a street. Beneath the curtained light of apartment complex balconies, a stray cat roams between garbage bags set out for collection. The wires between buildings drip with rain. The door to a cafe shuts.
Every breath tastes deliberate, and the pressure of evening humidity hugs close like one too many overcoats. Sleep tugs for attention until finally, even in this wakeful, busy place, it can be resisted no more.
What is your favorite part of summer?
Please leave a comment below.