Sunday, July 8, 2012

It's raining names

Jul 7, 2012
By Janice Tay

FIND me a clothes line, hang me up to dry - or I shall throw myself into a tumble dryer.

The rainy season is here. The Japanese call it tsuyu but I call it The Great Damp. Even when the weather's fine, the air is thick with moisture that seeps into you, into clothes, into bedding, and into the top of my fridge, which has taken up mould farming.

On the days that it storms hard enough to wash angels out of the sky, I stay indoors and read. More often than not, a book about the rain and its many names ends up in front of me.

There are the names that tell you when, how long and how hard. Hijigasa ame - elbow umbrella rain - the one that comes so suddenly you have to shelter yourself with your sleeve while you run for shelter.

Hito shibori - one wring - not long but heavy, as if someone has wrung a rain cloud dry.

A close cousin, ippatsu ame - one blast rain - stops almost as soon as it starts.

Then there are the rains named for their shape, named because they look like thread, zeros, cat fur or the shafts in a bamboo forest.

Every now and again, there is kai u - strange rain. Fish, frogs, tadpoles and worms have all apparently splattered down from the heavens, the victims, according to one theory, of whirlwinds or tornadoes that sucked them up into the air.

A more everyday oddity: The rain that comes even when the sun shines. Fox rain is one name for this, probably from folktales of foxes taking on human form to deceive. Another name: rainbow pee.

There are also the names that remind you that it's never just water spilling from the sky; there's always someone at the other end who will be dampened, drenched or delighted. And that someone need not be human.

In spring, there is yuei u - flower pleaser - just as there is mugi kurai: barley devourer. In summer, there is baba odoshi - granny scare - a sudden downpour in the afternoon that sends someone who has left beans or other things out to dry into a panic.

Regardless of season, there is yarazu no ame. It falls hard when a guest or lover is about to leave, and holds them back a little longer.

The rain here comes so close, it pours inside the body. Ji u - ear rain - a ringing in the ears. Kokoro no ame - heart rain - something that covers a heart, and will not let light in.

But the most common rain names are those that show the season. Kan ake no ame - frost end rain - falls around the first day of spring though the rains of this period are still cold, sometimes mixed with snow or ice.

Much warmer is banbutsu jou - all creation - which revives all those that winter left for dead. And when life returns, so does colour. Kurenai no ame - crimson rain - is the rain spanning the weeks when flowers of every shade of red - azaleas, rhododendrons, peach - bloom.

The summer entrant aoba ame - green leaf rain - follows, coating leaves so they look even shinier.

Splitting summer in two is the rainy season, tsuyu. Mukaezuyu - welcoming tsuyu - may go out to meet it. It appears before the season begins in earnest, raining on and off for a few days.

There are times when the rains don't come as expected. Farmers dread the empty tsuyu; its other name: withered tsuyu.

Also feared is abarezuyu - rampaging tsuyu. A deluge that roars down from day to night, it swells rivers until they burst.

A stretch of fine days around the middle of July may lead you to think that the rainy season is over. But sometimes kaerizuyu - returning tsuyu - nips back and keeps the weather wet for another two or three days.

With autumn, the rains grow cold and hawks go south. The rain that comes when they leave: taka watari - hawks crossing.

After they go, the days grow only colder, bringing at times amayuki - rain mixed with snow. Another winter visitor: kazahana, wind flowers. Early in the season, under a clear sky, the wind sometimes snatches up snow and drizzle, tossing them about before letting them fall.

But the days of wind flowers are still far off. It is tsuyu now, The Great Damp, and today promises to be wet again - more time, perhaps, to stay in and read about rains so that when they come, I may greet them by their proper name.

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