Monday, January 22, 2007

The Empty Winter

Late January would normally be the very depth of winter in Japan, but the waves of global warming is becoming stronger and stronger year after another. This winter is a severe one - not in the sense of coldness but rather the opposite, warmness.

Winter is supposed to be cold and brings snow to more than half the area of the country but this year we've hardly had any snow on national average. Snow causes trouble in the metropolis (especially Tokyo because even if it snows every year, the city structure and systems are not used to dealing with the thinnest bit of snow) and in the rural areas too if it gets too deep, but no snow causes bigger trouble for these rural - suburban villages, for these places snow means money.

I'm pretty sure this can be said for snow/wintersports resorts in other parts of the world, but having no or little snow means having no or little business in the ski mountains and hot spring resorts all over Japan. Whereas normally the ski mountains would be packed with thousands of skiers and snowboarders, the slopes are emptier in terms of visitors and in terms of whiteness. The slopes are close to bare than covered with thick snow, and some of the mountains barely keep their business by adding manmade snow.

There is an increasingly famous and popular tour in the northern part of the country called the snow drift experience tour, but they're not going to have it apparantly because there is no snow drift this winter.
It was only last night that the old houses of World Heritage village Shirakawago were lit up for winter illumination (though having said illumination, it's nothing like the ones we have in Tokyo. It's more aesthetic and fantastical). Usually at this time of year, at least a foot of heavy snow pile on top of the thatched roofs but this year you can see the thatch which makes the sight very... incomplete.

The first snow in Tokyo was more than a month later as compared to last winter, though like I just mentioned, snow isn't really welcome in the city. Warm is good, at least for my fingertips and toes, but a warm winter is somewhat sad and empty.

There's a famous Japanses classic literature called Makuranoshoshi by Seishonagon, and there's a part she writes about the four seasons. The first line for each season describes the most valuable element of the season, of what makes that particular season distinct and special. (note: below is a quick translation of my own and is not cited from a properly translated and published article/document)

Haru wa akebono - Spring, sunrise. The whitening rims of the mountains and the slightly purple, thin clouds.
Natsu wa yoru - Summer, night. The moon of course, yet dark nights with fireflies or drizzle have as much flavor.
Aki wa yuugure - Autumn, sunset. The birds flying back to their nests and the crickets singing after sunset.
Fuyu wa tsutomete - Winter, early morning. Burning fire in the brazier in the cold of the snow and frost.

When I first studied about this literature in secondary school I didn't really understand why a cold morning could be so good, but after I've grown a little more mature I've come to appreciate the changes in the seasons and their specialties. So in this sense coldness of the winter too, is something that should be there as a season. Losing it feels like losing something very important that our predecessors kept for thousands of years.

Today's update on
Japan Mode: This Week's Events in Tokyo - well... there wasn't much to introduce this week so I chose some month-long events. One's about winter peony, another's on media arts (includes digital arts, animation, manga, graphic design, etc. in Japan - sounds pretty interesting) and the last one is on stars and ukiyoe prints created by Hokusai.

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