Rainy season came a few weeks late this year, so it’s July 1st with a forecast of clouds and wet for the foreseeable future. All the fabric in the house has begun to feel a little bit damp to the touch, and our rock-garden yard is exploding with all manner of green. The kids were weeding with dad the other day and pulled out several plants taller than themselves. I also found three bamboo shoots, as tall as my chest, in the back of our house — I’d like to research how that could be. Bamboo seeds flying in the wind? Who knows.
Rice planting season ended a month ago, so now the flooded fields are filled with green, and soon the tadpoles swimming around the rice will sprout legs. In another month, we will hear them croaking at dusk, matching their rhythm with the locusts, who know neither appropriate timing nor volume levels in their singing. I distinctly remember sitting on tatami during one of my language lessons our first summer here, my sensei talking about the semi (locusts) and how when she hears their song, she immediately starts sweating, just thinking of the heat that accompanies them. I thought it was strange. But just yesterday, I was putting fresh cucumber slices in our own little tadpole pool (Ezra is obsessed with catching things right now) and heard the first semi of the season, chirping from a tree in our neighbor’s yard. I shuddered, thinking of the humidity and sweat coming my way, immediately picturing the misty sky, myself lying on the couch in our only air-conditioned room, fan whirring and a suica (watermelon) popsicle in my hand. I’ve arrived, I thought. The sound of semi makes me sweat.
Now into our eighth year here, I’ve feel that I’ve reached a turnaround point in my cultural adjustment, able to anticipate and enjoy the changing seasons of Shizuoka: when they come and what they mean, how they change the feel of my house and the offerings at the grocery store and the activities we pursue. It used to mean such sadness for me, that the images of seasons I grew up with didn’t match my physical surroundings. “Summer barbeque” was not burgers and fireworks on the fourth of July — it was yakisoba on the rocky shore of the river. My first years here, I used to scroll Facebook feeds and long for what I knew. In America, July meant daily pool visits and cookouts and boating at the lake and library trips and hot afternoons giving way to cool, breezy evenings. Now, July means sometimes rain, taking kids’ temperatures and signing pool permission cards for school, watching our ume (plum) jar as the fruit and rock sugar slowly meld together into the most natural, kool-aid-tasting beverage I’ve ever had. It means drying out and storing futon in plastic bags for the coming humidity, and coming home every. trip. from the grocery store with a box of produce I didn’t intend to purchase, it just looked too good.
I remember sitting in an interview, 22 and pregnant and 6-months-married, feeling very intimidated by the 10-year term for which we were applying. It seemed so long — too long. Wouldn’t five years be better? Couldn’t you adjust enough, get a close enough picture of life in Japan, without such a BIG number looming in the distance? But from this end, this point of view, I see so clearly why the leaders of our organization gave us that timeline. I don’t know about the rest of Asia, or even the rest of the world, but Japan is such a stark contrast to my previous life — it is known for it’s uniqueness, which presents interesting challenges to those seeking to build a new life here. I would’ve probably quit after five years — God knows I wanted to! My dear husband heard it all. But now? Now there is such beauty available here, a whole way of life, whole seasons with separate nostalgia for me. I sometimes miss “the American summer,” but I don’t long for it, ache for it, cry-in-the-bathroom-over-real-simple-magazine-pictures-of-it like I used to.
Now I watch the rain forecast, feed tadpoles and think of wishes and prayers to hang up for hanabata, dream of kakigori (shaved ice) and hanabi (fireworks) and river trips. In short, I live. And I do my living here, where I am, in Japan.