The Sounds of Summer

cicada
A cicada that almost became an accessory to my shoe

Summer in Japan is hot and humid. The temperature does not vary significantly between day and night. Being a simple man I like the fact that for the last three months, no matter the time of day, all I’ve needed is a T-shirt, shorts and a pair of Crocs. Barring indecency, dressing doesn’t get much simpler.

For the last couple of months the stillness of the evening has been pierced by the loud clicking of cicadas and the croaking of frogs in the adjacent rice field. These are the sounds of summer in semi-rural Japan. (There’s a Japanese pun in there if you’re a particularly astute student of Japanese!) The cicada in particular is pretty loud. Some cicadas can produce sound of up to 120dB SPL which The Internets reliably informs me is the “threshold of discomfort”, or as Australians like to classify it, “bloody loud”.

One can take some quiet sadistic satisfaction, however, upon learning that the life cycle of a cicada is kind of tragic. Just like the Spice Girls at the London Olympics, cicadas emerge after many years of being underground, make a lot of noise in a short space of time, and then, within a week, disappear into eternity.

Little Princess Syndrome in a Dog

sakura

Nicewife’s parents have a beautiful black labrador. They bought it after both their adult children had left home.

The dog serves a vital purpose. It indulges their need to pamper something younger and cuter than themselves. The dog’s life perks include the following:

  • Green tea on demand.
  • Year round climate control: Air conditioning in summer. Central heating in winter.
  • A raised feeding bowl so the poor dear doesn’t have to strain her neck to reach for food on the floor.
  • A wind shelter on windy days. A sun shelter on sunny days.
  • A collection of mats that are rotated according to season: Airy tatami, a gell-filled “cool pad” and thick luxury carpet.
  • An electronic insect repeller.

If there is a fly in her room she will bark until they remove it. She refuses to go for a walk if the ground is even slightly wet, yet alone if it is actually raining. She also won’t walk if it is much over 30 degrees outside. Nicewife’s dad cuts open old yoghurt and ice cream containers so that she can lick up every last drop. (I’ve yet to see him help with housework by cutting up the containers that we are required to recycle.) If the family are eating some special treat that has been given as a gift, one is often reserved for the little princess. Even her transportation is first-class. Despite the fact that Nicewife’s parents own a small tray-top truck perfectly suited to canine carriage, the dog will only visit the vet in the BMW.

The pampering of dogs is something of a common theme in Japan. It is not unusual to see women taking their small dogs for a walk…. in a Louis Vuitton bag! The dog looks bored. The woman looks exhausted. Yves Carcelle looks immensely satisfied.

I thought I’d finish with a photo of an elevator at a local shopping mall. This particular elevator (of a total of three available) is specifically intended for the use of customers who have come, to this very nice modern indoor mall, accompanied with their bagged dogs.

pet elevator

Panda Death a Metaphor

Relations between Asia’s two giants China and Japan are rarely straightforward. Despite being the second and third lagest economies in the world and doing hundreds of billions of dollars in bilateral trade, a few choice words by a prominent government official or a territorial incursion by a small fishing boat can quickly escalate into an international diplomatic crisis.

This week saw heightened tensions due to a Japanese government announcement that it intends to nationalise the Senkaku Islands, a group of islands in the South China Sea that are also claimed by China and Taiwan. China responded by sending “fishing vessels” into Japanese-claimed territorial waters around the islands. It was the top story on the evening news. Everyone was very upset. The Japanese government’s hand had been somewhat forced into making the purchase, as the right-wing mayor of Tokyo was already arranging for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to purchase the islands on behalf of the country.

In a seemingly unrelated issue, Nicewife was watching TV on Wednesday when a Newsflash (the type that is usually reserved for earthquakes and typhoons) announced the death of a newborn baby panda at Ueno Zoo. The zoo director was in tears. The Prime Minister described the death as “very disappointing”. A major department store cancelled its “Happy Panda Week” sale. (Apparently dead pandas don’t sell handbags.) The country is in mourning.

Given that Ueno Zoo is also owned by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, one can’t but help wonder if the baby panda death is an unfortunate metaphor for the future of Sino-Japanese relations.

baby panda
Newborn Panda at Ueno Zoo  (Photo: Ueno Zoological Gardens)

Limbless Reptile Gets Cold Feet

Yesterday I went to the library to do some work. I thought it might be a nice and free alternative to paying $5 for a cup of mud-like filter coffee and 2 hours at a table. I set up my laptop at a nice spot near the window and was just about to get down to work when I noticed a sign:

  • No Mobile Phones
  • No Food and Drink
  • No Portable Electronic Games
  • No Calculators
  • No Office Equipment
Always anxious to make a positive impression to locals of foreign residents in Japan, I thought I better check with the librarian to make sure that “Office Equipment” did not include laptop computers. Surely it wouldn’t. After all, what serious student nowadays studies without the aid of a laptop or iPad or something? That sign must be there to prevent people from bringing in their own fax machines and making atonal sounds at the nice table near the window.
Me: “I’ve brought my laptop from home. It’s ok to use it in the library isn’t it.”
Librarian: “I’m terribly sorry.”
Me: “You mean it’s forbidden? Really?”
Librarian: “I’m terribly sorry”; now looking ashamed of this meaningless rule.
Librarian returns to typing on her Office Equipment.
No wonder the library is empty! They turn away anyone who doesn’t think it’s 1975. Dejected, I got on my bike (literally and metaphorically) and followed the footpath along the river until I saw this.
snake out of the grass
I stopped to take a photo on my phone and these two middle-aged ladies (who I’d just overtaken) walked past and straight towards the snake. They were moving so confidently that I thought they must’ve seen it… after all, it was right in the middle of the path – how could one miss it?
“That’s unusual”, I said.
“What is?”
“Seeing a snake, here, in October.”
“Snake? “
They froze for a second or two, quietly freaking out. A little knowledge is dangerous: they now knew only that a snake was somewhere nearby without the vitally important data of its exact location. I watched them closely and I could pinpoint the exact instant that their eyes had locked onto it.
A few seconds later I looked back over my shoulder to about 5 meters behind me, where the two middle-aged ladies now stood.
“Do you think it’s poisonous?”, I asked.
“No. But I hate snakes!”, one of the ladies replied.
“I’ve lived here all my life and this is the first time I’ve seen one.”
We watched the snake, apparently now having gotten cold feet, slowly disappear into the adjacent playground.