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Out of Step


If I describe to you some of my surroundings as I sit writing this little piece, can you guess the date? I am in the tatami room of my Tokyo 'mansion', with a portable fan standing on the floor nearby, turning its head this way and that. Next to my keyboard is a tall glass of 'mugi-cha', condensation dripping down its sides. The thermometer on the wall indicates nearly 30C, and it is so humid that it is difficult to remain interested in the work I am supposed to be doing ... Is that enough information? I suppose you would guess: high summer.

Well, no. Actually, it's the third week in September, and just as every year by this time, I've had enough of this kind of weather. I've had enough, not just because it has been a long hot summer and I'm ready for a change, but because this muggy weather is just not right for September, a month that indelibly in my mind, is an autumn month.

How is it that our traditional calendar seasons so poorly match the reality around us? Am I alone in having this image of September, October and November as autumn; of December, January and February as winter; of March, April and May as spring; and June, July and August as summer? But the real seasons are different, aren't they? Autumn is really October, November and December. The truly cold hard months are January, February and March. April, May and June are the time when the world is coming back to life again; and July, August and September are the hot months.

I think the source of the confusion can be found in astronomy, and the relative length of the days and nights. The real seasons here on the ground are anywhere up to two months 'behind' the astronomical events that are their cause. June 21st may well be the longest day, but it is far from the hottest, just as December 21st is by no means the coldest. This earth is indeed a very big object, and has an immense inertia that must be overcome to alter things like ocean currents and jet streams, and whatever else affects our weather patterns. Although the days actually start getting longer way back in December, even before Christmas, it takes a long, long time for the extra hours of sunlight and the stronger angle of the radiation to have an effect.

I suppose also, that people living up in Hokkaido and down in Okinawa have quite a different view of the seasons from those of us living here in the Kanto, as of course do people living in more varied parts of the world. So I guess there's not much we can do about this misalignment between tradition and reality. Each of us simply has to learn what local weather patterns are like, and adjust accordingly.

After all, if Australians can learn to enjoy Xmas while lying on the hot beaches of the Gold Coast, I'm sure I can learn to start thinking of autumn while sitting in the breeze from my fan, and drinking cool mugi-cha!