Perhaps no other people on earth are as aware of nature and the seasons as the people of Japan. Many people’s names are associated with different aspects of nature such as flowers. Japanese poetry such as haiku use nature or seasonal themes quite extensively. Volumes have been written about words with seasonal reference, primarily for poetry. A “kigo” is a word or phrase associated with a particular season. Even today millions of city dwellers are very aware of the change of seasons and the Japanese as a whole enjoy defining the seasons by certain foods, special events or images, and different sounds. When plum trees start to bloom in late February it suggests that spring is near, but for most people spring is really defined as the time of cherry blossoms and all the activities associated with them. Fall is the season for chestnuts, amazing fall foliage and sweet potatoes, or “satsumaimo”. Winter is the time for “kabocha”, a winter squash or Japanese pumpkin often used to make a very popular soup, and trips to the one’s favorite onsen to soak in soothing hot springs. And then there’s summer which begins at about the same time as the rainy season – late June or early July. Usually the rain is a very gentle rain, but occasionally there are very heavy rainfalls or strong thunderstorms. Then comes the oppressive heat and stifling humidity. But, it’s all taken in stride. There are always special foods for every season such as cold noodles in summer, but perhaps nothing is more special on a hot summer day than 

melons, particularly cold watermelon. And there are festivals throughout the summer and throughout the country which attract large crowds. In late August as the sun drops behind the mountains a little earlier in many place across the country including Kameoka, the evenings become more pleasant. That’s the time for moon viewing festivals or just relaxing and enjoying the sights and sounds in one’s surroundings.

    I remember those kinds of evenings during our time in Kameoka. My wife Kayo and I would take a walk through our neighborhood or over to the Hozu River and enjoy the croaking of the frogs in the rice paddies, the chirping of the cicadas, and the tingling of the wind chimes or “furin”. Clearly the sounds of the furin were not sounds of nature but the pleasant sounds came about because of a gentle breeze. I remember many sights, sounds, tastes and smells experienced in Japan and among the sounds, the tingling of the small furin were among my favorite, but I was not alone. In a poll taken in Japan asking people what their favorite sound of summer was, the tingling of the furin was the second most popular, second only to the chirping of the cicadas. I’ll go with the furin and I enjoy the sound even now from the four furin in our back yard. They were purchased in Kyoto which makes the sound even more special to me.

Larry Jones is a member of the Stillwater Sister Cities Council.

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