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.

The Boys Kitted Out for Summer Festival

the boys in yukata
The Boys in their Yukatas

Summer in Japan is festival season. The days are hot and humid and the evenings are pretty much the same (except just a little less hot). It thus figures that the best time to hold an outdoor festival is in the evening when the temperature has dropped a little.

There are fireworks, traditional dancing, taiko drumming, stalls selling festival food and cold beer, and locals dressed in traditional costume. In some ways it reminds me of a Scottish Ceilidh (dinner dance), which provides the rare occasion for everyone to dress in kilts and dance the night away.

Of course wearing a kilt in the traditional manner at close to 60 ° North is quite a different climatic experience to wearing a Yukata on a balmy summer evening in Japan.

Capsule Reconsider Your Choice of Hotel

A few weeks ago I went to Osaka to catch up with my friend from Takarazuka, Crazy K.

To save money we looked for a cheap hotel. Because Japan’s urban areas are some of the most densely populated in the world, the main way hoteliers can reduce their costs is to reduce your space. In the case of our particular hotel they reduced it to this:

Capsule Hotel
Our hotel "rooms". Believe it or not, these are the extra wide capsules - we paid $2 more for that little piece of relative luxury.

It was a bizarre mix of high-tech and high school. After checking in at reception we were given keys to our metal lockers where we could stash all of our stuff. We then refreshed ourselves in the communal baths, bought drinks and snacks from the onsite vending machines, watched TV in the 1980s communal lounge, and then retired to our $25 coffins to die sleep.

The capsules were actually surprisingly comfortable, and I would’ve slept quite well if I hadn’t foolishly consumed caffeinated coffee at 11pm, and if drunken salarymen hadn’t entered loudly at 3am triggering a half-asleep and justifiably grumpy capsule occupant to start shouting “Oi”, “Ooi”, “Ooooiiii”. How considerate.

The next morning I witnessed a quintessentially Japanese sight. A crumpled businessman emerged from his capsule, got dressed outside his high-school-style metal locker in a shirt, cufflinks and a fine business suit, and styled his hair for a power meeting, thereby transforming himself from a shrivelled drunk to a successful business professional in just 5 minutes. It was like I was witnessing the accelerated metamorphosis of a caterpillar to a butterfly. Well maybe not a butterfly… perhaps just some kind of ultra-efficient grey moth.

This is Japan.