It's June, rainy season here now, and like so many before, after several weeks of rain the green is so intense, so totally absorbed in itself, it's almost an explosion: bursting forth in every direction, leaving no space unattended, sweeping up and out far into the gray overcast sky. Vines stretch -- bold tentacles, tough and taunt, thin fingers searching, clasping, winding, curling around anything that is near. When I look at this abundance, I can't help but think how stark, hard and gray the view in Tokyo seems in comparison. We are fortunate, living in this small city, away from Tokyo, surrounded by so much life. And how life really wants to be! Though different from other parts of the world, the rain forests of Japan are lush and beautiful...and bamboo particularly enjoys this water, its contributions then appreciated by bamboo craft artists all over.
As the rainy season set in, a small bamboo shoot was making its way up through the ground in our garden. Bamboo is always in a rush, never one to wait or linger, always showing off, trying to get to the head of the class. In just three days one shoot grew from several inches to one foot. One more day saw three more inches. And as the rain continued to fall, early morning measurements charting the growth became so ridiculous – eyeing it would do. In just a few weeks it has gone from 3 inches to well over ten feet, and it may still be growing as the leaves have yet to pop out. Bamboo, they say, is not a tree but a grass. It is this abundance that probably explains why the Japanese brought it into their daily lives in so many ways. As welcome as the rain is outside, inside, where we sit, it's a different story. The floor feels damp, as do the towels, clothes and bedding...nothing dries. And sometimes, on the windowsills of the older homes, mushrooms begin to sprout -- with all this moisture, life pops up in unusual places.
Years ago, when we lived in Niigata, on the other side of that mountain range that separates west from east, we rented home built when Japan was poor and still struggling to gain a foothold after the war. It was hard times for those farmers and housing materials were scarce or expensive. The house we rented was one among many for those times – a mish-mash of ceramic roof tiles, wood, corrugated metal and other cheaply-available materials. Traditional decor with tatami mats throughout was the one nice get -- the rainy season plays nicely with tatami mats. The damp air encourages them to give off a rather sweet scent, like cut hay and if you lie back and close your eyes you will be transported to a grass field…not too bad for the rainy season. This scent would permeate the house - soothing....a natural aromatherapy.
Tatamis were also the only thing separating us from the naked earth below. If I were to lift them up from their wooden frames, I would see bare ground. This rather close proximity to nature meant that all kinds of creatures would pay visits...anything to get out of the rain! We would arise in the morning to find small, bright green frogs hopping across the room with small, pink crabs scurrying sideways not far behind. My daughter, only 5 at the time, was thrilled with this little marching zoo. It was her job to gather these visitors up and deposit them outside – where they belonged, in my opinion.
I had less appreciation than my daughter for these unexpected guests. The bugs were the worst: centipedes and silverfish and other things with hairy, icky legs too many to count. A trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night was like a horror movie. I would pick my way, carefully lighting each step, fully awake and alert, bug spray in hand. But, I admit, as time went by I grew tired of feeling afraid. So on the way to the loo I let whatever was scurrying by in front of me go, knowing that by morning’s light it would be hidden away again-- somewhere. The vacuum cleaner took care of the rest who refused to play nice....by the end of the rainy season, I think I had quite a colony living in the vacuum's dust-bag.
The rains continue here and the newspaper gives advice: not a good day to hang out the laundry to dry, it says. Maybe two to three weeks more to go -- and the bamboo continues to grow, reaching up, up, trying to touch the sky.
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About the Author
Hi from Japan everyone! I'm Karen and I have been living and traveling, (yes, often by bullet train :) for Alfan Select, fun and adventure for over 20 years! You can read more of my personal stories in Japan here. As a cute couple, one of our new shared stories is about ferreting out the amazing contemporary examples of fine craftsmanship here in Japan. And these craft artists have amazing stories, too! So, if you like, browse around our site and enjoy reading some. Cheers! Karen