Japan's 72 Microseasons - #36
"Heavy Rains Fall Suddenly"
August 2 - 7
たいう ときどきに ふる
Taiu tokidoki ni furu
”Heavy rains fall suddenly”
For a few weeks in late summer, the weather in Japan alternates between sunny tropical humidity and violent tropical storms as a zone of warm, moist air called the baiu zensen (梅雨前線) hovers off the southwestern coast of Japan and builds up heat from the ocean. An average year sees five or six significant storms pass over the Japanese islands, some doing major damage but all putting daily life to a halt until they pass through. This is typhoon season.
Oddly enough, the Japanese word for “typhoon,” taifū (台風), actually comes from the English rather than the other way around.1 Prior to its introduction, the common word for these sudden storms was nowaki (野分), which is still used in some parts of the countryside, or to refer to typhoon that happen in August.2
And they sure are happening in August this year. As I write this, there are two bearing down on the archipelago.
Although we track them in advance via satellite imagery and meteorological prediction software these days, it’s easy to imagine how the fury of a typhoon making landfall would seem sudden without those tools. They don’t build up overhead or blow in gradually like your usual rain storms—they approach, slowly and somewhat unpredictably, like drunken beasts.3 Eventually, the entire landscape is consumed by a blanket of rain with no end in sight. There’s a sense of unstoppable inevitability to them.
Even those out of the path of the major weather systems aren’t spared heavy summer downpours. This season is also marked by shūchū-goū (集中豪雨), highly localized rainfalls that burst out of gigantic cumulonimbus cloud columns that have soaked up all the moisture risen from the soil last microseason. It can often be raining on one side of town but not the other, or travelers can find themselves passing through on-and-off-again rainstorms as they make their commutes.
After the sun goes down, you may be sat down to dinner and hear raindrops begin pounding the roof as sudden nighttime storms, called yūdachi (夕立) are also common during Kō 36 and the rest of the typhoon season.
Still, rain isn’t all that this season has. It also has one of Japan’s most famous soundscapes, a bit of background noise so inescapable you’d be hard pressed to find a movie or show set in summer that doesn’t feature it: the buzzing of cicadas.
In the periods between rainstorms, the air is full of the staticky song of semi (蝉). Like the frogs in ricefields during springtime evenings, the summer chorus of cicadas in Japan can be near-deafening. It is, however, an indelible part of the season, and for many also calls to mind nostalgic memories of summer vacations and days whiled away in nature with a bug net swung over a shoulder.4
When the air is full of this droning, cascading chorus of cicada calling, it’s referred to as semi-jigure (蝉時雨), literally “cicada showers.” Have a listen, and picture yourself walking through the fields after the rain has fallen, where the air is still a little wet but not as heavy as it was before the storm.
Regardless of whether or not it’s currently raining, in these days you never know when a sudden downpour could start up. Best to find somewhere cozy to settle in, and maybe enjoy a few seasonally appropriate items…
● Seasonal vegetable
nasu, ナス, eggplant/aubergine
● Seasonal seafood
tachiuo, 太刀魚, beltfish
● Seasonal fruit
suika, スイカ, watermelon
I find a certain relief when the stormfront finally hits, when the typhoon finally makes landfall after days and weeks of hearing about its approach. When the wind and rain is raging and whipping about, there can be no more worry or planning or preparing, there’s only hunkering down and letting it pass over, hoping that the roof will hold.
And when it’s finally over, it’s time to go out and survey the fields for damage. See what remains, and what’s been scattered.
I’m traveling home for my mother’s funeral today, after years of her health declining. The storm has come and gone, and the time after is maybe the most peaceful of all. The quiet of it so stark compared to the chaos at the storm’s peak. The cleanup begins.
See you next kō~
Keep up with the seasons
The etymology for the English word is a little murky, but the most common history is that it came into Greek (typhon) from Arabic (tufon), and was later reinforced by the Cantonese tai fung which means “a great wind”—language has always been a result of global exchange!
It’s said that the term refers to the state of the fields after a typhoon passes over: 野 means “field” and 分 means “separate,” and the strong winds that come with the storm certainly separate things from one another
You’ve probably seen those maps that show a bunch of likely paths a typhoon might take in the coming days—that’s because when they’re still over water they’re influenced by both air currents and sea currents, which make them notoriously hard to predict 100%
The massively popular game series Pokémon is inspired by the creator’s experiences doing just that!