Japanese are fond of pointing out to foreigners that "we have four seasons （四季、shiki）in Japan."
The eye-rolling banality of this comment notwithstanding, it is also not quite true.
In addition to the usual quartet of spring （春、haru）, summer（夏、natsu）, fall （秋、aki）, and winter（冬、fuyu）, Japan also has a six-week rainy season（梅雨、tsuyu）.
And it just started in Honshu（本州、honshu), the largest of the islands in the Japanese archipelago.
In addition to the rain （雨、ame）that is necessary for the newly planted rice fields（田んぼ、tanbo）, the "season" also brings with it other distinctive features.
First, on the pleasant side, are flowers. The hydrangea （紫陽花、ajisai）- which come in white（白い、shiroi）, blue（青い、aoi）, pink（ピンク、pink）, and a purple（紫、murasaki）- is the flower most associated with the season.
Also, though it is not apparent to non-botanists, it is the time of year when the fruit of the plum trees blossom. The name 梅雨 (tsuyu) combines the characters for "plum" and "rain," implying as much.
Aside however from the occasional blue-sky day, the period is sticky （むしむし、mushi mushi）and miserable.
The rains bring out the bugs（虫、mushi）and snakes（蛇、hebi）. In a dense park in our Kyoto neighborhood, it is a veritable zoo（動物園、dobutsuen）. The season brings dreaded poisonous centipedes（ムカデ、mukade）, non-poisonous rat-eating snakes （青代将、aoi dasho）that are beloved by farmers and can reach up to five feet in length, mountain leeches（蛭、hiru）the color of surgical gloves that are 1-2 feet long and thin as string, lots of spiders （蜘蛛、kumo）, and of course gazillions of other buzzing biting bugs.
Thank goodness for mosquito coils（蚊取り線香、katori senko）!
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Thursday, June 11, 2009