From late June to mid-September, we of the Good Hood drink the air not breathe it. The humidity is crushing and life becomes strangely aquatic as we wallow in a bath of our own making and watch our skin take on a shiny, glistening sheen.
The elderly tend their gardens at sunrise to beat the heat, eat watermelon, then burrow away in their dark, ancient houses until it subsides. Then, around sunset when the lights come on, windows open to reveal elderly men stripped to the waist with cold bottles of beer and televised baseball games turned to full volume in front of them. These--and eating more watermelon--are the rituals of summer in the Good Hood.
Another is bathing regularly. “A shower twice a day keeps evil spirits away,” says my old friend Ono-san. By “spirits” I think she means the odorous kind. Whatever. It doesn’t stop a crust of salt forming on my hard-working collar.
If you’ve been following this blog, you will note that kids don’t feature much in the Good Hood commentary. This is because, like water sprites, they seem only to appear on weekends along my neighborhood river, the Semba, where the medaka fishing is good. That is until summer holidays begin. Then hell breaks loose, an amiable hell, punctuated by the whump! of a soccer ball against the neighbor’s wall or the pop-pop of a distance skyrocket. And suddenly sprites are everywhere.
But what really signals the start of summer is the 6:30am reveille, the call to arms (and legs and stiff torsos) by NHK national radio and neighborhood associations across Japan. This is “rajio taiso” (radio exercises), a tradition designed to raise the nation’s youth at ‘school hours’ throughout their summer holidays. In my neighborhood, where many residents have been up since 4am, the crackle of the NHK broadcast from a portable radio is matched by the crackling of knee and hip joints as the elderly lead the sleepy-eyed youth in a gymnastic routine in our local park each morning.
So where to cool off as day wears on and humidity climbs? The Funabiki Mens’ Barber Shop is a good start; it’s air-conditioned for your comfort, with Tahitian Lime hair tonic to cool your scalp, piped Okinawan music your temper and the rhythmic snip-snip of scissors to lull you into a perfumed doze--until the perfumed bill arrives.
For the kids and the elderly life is just one big sweet watermelon. But what about the poor parents of the Good Hood? How do they keep their cool during the long hot summer? I know the answer because I have served on the neighborhood rubbish collection supervisory team (NRCST) and twice a month, at our designated collection point, have watched the middens of empty beer cans rise to rival the Pyramids of Giza (well almost).
Speaking of liquid refreshments, next week’s blog squeezes into swimwear and goes to the City Swimming Pool. Stay tuned.
What is the essence of a traditional Japanese neighbourhood? Writing from my home in Himeji, a castle town in western Honshu, Seaweed Salad Days distills, ferments, presents!