Wednesday, April 2, 2014

12. 雷乃発声: "Thunder Calls Forth"

(BGM: "Electrical Storm" by U2)

Shichijuni-kou (72 Seasons) Calendar Listing
仲春, Chushun: "Mid-spring"
Season No. 4: 春分, Shunbun: 
"Vernal Equinox"  
Clouds that spawned a tornado in Toride, Ibaraki (April 2011).

Climate No. 12: 雷乃発声
Kaminari Sunawachi Koe Wo Hassu:
" Thunder Calls Forth" 
(March 30 -April 3)

Lightning terrorizing central Japan (April 2012)

Lighting: spindly gnarled dragons flashing across a blackened sky, roaring fiery breaths that crash in massive sonic booms. No wonder the people of ancient times named thunder and lightning the "call of the gods."

Walking around quiet shrines and holy places of Japan, I always see small white pieces of paper folded in a zigzag shape called shide (四手), hanging from hand-woven fibrous ropes (shimenawa  注連縄). These paper strips are used in Shinto rites to represent the purifying fire of lightning which can apparently protect an object from evil and render it sacred. (I had no idea paper could be so powerful!)

A shide hangs from a 1,000 year-old cedar tree at Hyakusaiji Temple in Higashi Omi, Shiga.
Though fearsome and deadly, according to one of my rice-growing friends, lightning has long been revered in Japan as a bringer of nutrients to the soil (scientific proof pending. This excellent Ibaraki-based blog by Avi Landau elaborates upon the relationship between farmers and these awesome forces of nature). For this reason alone, I feel pressured to see lightning as a good thing.

But lightning storms in Japan are just downright scary! Every year, a handful of innocent joggers, boaters and grandpas fixing their rooftop antennas are zapped to death by lightning. And every year, it seems that another person I know has to replace an electric appliance because electric tentacles fell from the sky, wriggling their way down the power lines frying it to a smoky crisp. Whenever the sky glows sickly orange, signaling the formation of a lightning storm, I'm struck silly with a mix of elation and dread. I know I'm in for a spectacular light show, but lacking the wits to appreciate it to its fullest.

I have good reason to fear the Japanese thunder gods. When I lived in Sapporo, lightning struck an elementary school, heating up a bathroom pipe so hot it shot right through the school roof! I've had lightning strike the power pole just outside my Ibaraki apartment window with a "boom!" as loud as an elephant rifle, knocking out the power for at least three hours. I've also watched lightning literally chase my neighbor up a flight of stairs! When it flashes as frequently as once per 5 seconds, like it does in late summer, you really do think it's out to get you! 

That's why I'm thankful that I now live in a prefecture not so prone to electrical storms. And with this being the season of the first thunder cracks of spring, when cold Siberian fronts clash hard against warm spring southerlies like an unhappily married couple, this year, I'm happy to say that all the action occurred out east and left me with pristine blue skies. Though my mind kept expecting turbulent weather this past week, all has been clear and calm. I couldn't be more pleased.

A hot pink sunset turns a green boat to gold on the Seto Inland Sea ( with no lightning in sight!) 
Flower of the Season: コブシ, Kobushi, Magnolia

Snow-white magnolias braving the mid-spring cold.
"It was with awe 
  That I beheld
   Fresh blossoms, white blossoms 
    Bright in the sun."   -Matsuo Basho

A peek inside a Magnolia kobus (Hiroshima Prefecture).
 Blooming just days ahead of the sakura wave, the big, floppy flowers of the kobushi magnolia dot the mountainsides of the Chugoku region like hundreds of thousands of frozen snowballs. Upon opening, their vertically spiking porcelain blossoms face the sun head-on, offering up a delicate, sweet fragrance. As spring progresses, the petals fall back and flop downward, flapping in the wind like rabbit ears.

As the petals prepare for their backwards dive into oblivion, it's common to hear the Japanese express a feeling of sadness. But to me, the effect is quite comical. Again, I find myself unable to go along with the prevalent cultural mindset. The petals may drop, but the tree is still alive. Leaves will bud after the flowers have gone. Is that not a beautiful, wonderful thing?

I feel so rebellious: fearing lightning though it's really my friend, laughing at the fall of the kobushi flower...Did I lose my marbles or did the marbles lose me?

I have a feeling the answer to that is in the near future. Stay tuned.

Copyright 2014 Genkilee, Gen. All rights reserved. No part of this blog (written or photo content) may be reproduced or reprinted without the expressed permission of the author.

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