An inconvenient inconvenience

Loathe as I am to resort to writing about the weather, of all things, it does merit some attention. The very first year I lived in Japan the weather was fairly stable and followed the pattern I had been warned about. “Japan,” I was proudly told by several sources, “has four distinct seasons; winter, spring, summer and autumn.” For some reason a lot of Japanese think this sets them apart from the rest of the world; it probably has something to do with many of them visiting Australia. Even so, it isn’t the full story. My first winter here was bright, crisp and cold; there even was snow! The spring warmed up nicely, like an English summer. A brief rainy period brought the standard number of typhoons to Tokyo, strong, windy rainstorms I had never experienced before. The summer was blazing hot and so humid that it was almost futile to dry yourself after a cold shower. The autumn was cooler but still pleasant before making way again for the brisk winter.

Every year since then the seasons seem to have been mixed up more and more. This last year, for example, spring flew by, with the cherry blossoms blooming a couple of weeks before they were due, causing a mad rush of hanami, flower watching, drunken picnic parties and a local sakura festival amongst the green remains of the cherry blossom flowers, which were strewn across the streets where the last of them had fallen days before. The rainy season was rainy, but not exceptionally so. I haven’t experienced a typhoon as I have in my first year. The standard was simply to leave the house with an umbrella every day, without the assurance of needing it at all. The summer, though fairly humid, seemed a lot more bearable than before and certainly was typified more by gray smog days than blisteringly sunny smog days. You only knew it was autumn because the trees lost heir leaves, but temperature wise it seemed a shaky transition. Even the winter had a few warm, almost spring-like days and only one morning of soft white snow which lasted only a few hours and never hit the ground. Now the weather lady ells us it’s not spring yet, despite the few sunny, warm days we’ve had since, let’s face it, late December. The weather is cold again and rainy, even though last weekend I was almost tempted to start wearing short sleeves.

The fact it seems colder could be attributed to a few things. One is that I’ve acclimatized. This is probably true, as going home now requires heavy suitcases packed with sweaters and thick socks. The cold of Europe seems almost unbearable these last few years. I see tourists, obviously British, wearing T-shirts and even shorts while I’m still wrapped up in my winter coat, wearing gloves! Another reason is probably my weight loss. The Japanese call it “nikku juban”, meat underclothes, a funny and derogatory term for your spare tire. Remember this word; you’ll delight your Japanese acquaintances by knowing it. Without these layers of fat, or rather with fewer layers of fat, I’m bound to feel the cold more. But even so, it seems a little extreme.
The worst thing a paranoid hypochondriac like me could have done was watch Al Gore’s “An inconvenient truth”. The man, whether you like him or not, speaks with obvious passion, and though the film can’t make up its mind on whether it is a documentary on Mr. Gore himself or a scary lecture about global warming, its message is stark and frightening. I am not inclined to believe everything or anything told to me on television or in films, but simply seeing how the weather has changed in Japan over the last few years I find myself probably believing everything he says. My personal observations match his message, so I have little to doubt its truths. I certainly lean towards his views more than those of the conservatives whose main global warming policy seems to revolve around the tactic of covering their ears and shouting “Lies! LIES! I tell you! You could prove anything with ‘facts', don’t trust them!”

It seems global warming is a real issue and is having immediate, noticeable effects all around the world. It’s scaring the Hell out of me, but I am trapped in my lazy life of not caring enough. The excellent Mitchell & Webb did a sketch about this in their radio show where a passionate global warming enthusiast is trying to convince an apathetic man about the dangers. “We lease the planet from our children.” “Is that some kind of tax dodge?” It continues “So what can I do without having to give up all the good stuff?” “Good stuff?” “You know, driving, plastic, ready-made meals, that kind of thing.” The best line comes up in the conclusion, which I’ll paraphrase here from memory, “So you’re saying I should stop driving, using plastic and electricity so a hummingbird in Africa can live for a few more generations when it’ll die anyway when the sun goes mental in the future?”

Japan is ever so slowly turning round its “who gives a damn about some hummingbird” attitude, but it has a long way to go. Though supermarkets only offer plastic bags they do, weakly encourage people not to use too many of them, offering a kind of stamp-card loyalty system if you don’t require one. But regular packaging, however beautiful it usually is in Japan, is still extraordinarily profligate; a plastic bag opens to reveal an inner plastic bag containing individual cookies on a plastic tray, yet each cookie too has its individual wrapper and, if necessary, a small bag of chemicals to keep the moisture out. Be warned, people, these bags are not salt and shouldn’t be eaten, as I told a visiting friend once, in the nick of time, as she prepared to open the little sachet with her teeth. No, Japan, like many nations, has a lot of bad habits to change. At least it has a decent waste disposal system where PET bottles, cans and glass are separated from the main garbage, and a lot of corporations are playing around with fuel efficiency and alternate fuel sources. A Japanese university was the first, for example, to create a battery powered race car capable of great acceleration and speed.

I do what little I can; I try not to use too much electricity, recycle plastic bags, buy filtered water in refillable jugs rather than large plastic bottles, separate my rubbish and don’t buy too much plastic-wrapped unhealthy foods. I wish I had the conviction to do more, but as a typical Modern Man I am waiting for governments to make things more affordable or mandatory. In the meantime I am suffering many little head colds, as the weather changes from day to day and I am never sure what to wear. One day I’ll be sweating in my winter clothes, the next freezing in an icy, windy rain. I’m not making plans for hanami this year as you won’t know in what small window of time the flowers will blossom and you won’t be guaranteed the picnic won’t be ruined by strong, icy winds and a heavy downpour. Japan doesn’t have four seasons anymore, just one long one all mixed up.


  1. Oh, I totally agree on the 'too much damn packaging' aspect, even though I haven't lived in Japan since my childhood - we still get imports here. Especially for snacks. With individually wrapped morsels, it actually becomes a minor chore if you want to eat a bunch in one go. Sometimes there's more volume to the packaging than the food itself! Sheesh.

  2. Here is a url that you can send to friends and family that will direct them to the video "The Great Global Warming Swindle".

    For more information on the documentary you can go here.

  3. Thanks for the link, anon. People *should* hear both sides of the story. One sounds more realistic and better researched than another, and one likes to bandy the work "propaganda" about a lot whilst sounding more like propaganda itself, but it's good to hear both sides of the arguments.

  4. What you may be experiencing right now is probably more due to El NiƱo, which helped cause the unusually warm winter in the U.S. (followed by few days of crazy Canadian cold air causing airport delays and such).

  5. There aren't "two sides" to a scientific issue; there are only "two sides" to political issues.

    Here is a link to's response to The Great Global Warming Swindle. Almost every claim in TGGWS is old and already refuted. What little truth remains in TGGWS is used to mislead. :-(

    I wish more people would watch An Inconvenient Truth, but most of the people who have seen it aren't the ones that need convincing.

    (I *just* got around to watching it myself yesterday; did it bother you when he kept pronouncing Kyoto as Key-yoto? No? Just me? OK).

    In my town (in Fukui prefecture, land of all the nuclear power stations), we really separate our garbage (as required by law here; in addition to regular recyclables, there's also burnable, plastic, and unburnable. Unburnable goes into a clear plastic bag, so all your neighbors can see what you are throwing away, and can yell at your if you throw away something recyclable), so the perspective is a bit different. I see LOTS of people using eco-bags at the supermarkets.

  6. I think the garbage laws are different in every prefecture, some being more strict than others. Ours is pretty good but not too stringent. Big rubbish is the real pisser, with pretty hefty taxes on things you need to call out special garbage collection for. And a good thing too, really.

    You're right about the climate issue of course. I was trying to remain politically unbiased (though I'm not). I still think people should watch that TGGWS documentary, just to hear the arguments against; and then refute them.

    Keeeyodo. Ugh. No, it bothered me too, but then I'm terribly anal about these things. What's your excuse? :)

  7. I like the Japanese seasons, they're much more defined (than the UK at least). It's very organised and just-so. When the time for spring comes, the weather knows it, you go to sleep on a cold night and wake up wondering why the hell you have so many blankets on. Same for winter, one morning you'll wake up and BANG! it's winter and don't you know it! Although it sounds like the Japanese weather is getting a bit unruly now.

  8. those heavy taxes on certain types of rubbish are probably the reason you see so much dumping in Japan. It's pretty sad to see rubbish strewn around some beautiful areas of the countryside because someone was too lazy or too poor to dispose of it properly. I find this especially odd as it seems just as big a problem as it is in Britain, yet the Japanese as a whole seem to care more about nature and the environment.

    Japanese cities, though... spotless*.

    *well, Kyoto is.