Falling for Fall in Japan
August 28, the day I arrived back in Japan two weeks ago after nearly a month away. I remember sitting on a train from Osaka Station on the second of three legs of my journey from the airport back to countryside. I was listening to a podcast, mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, though entering my third hour of ground transit, and my ninth including air, nothing held my interest for long. I looked up from my phone just as the train rounded a bend, and the most brilliant purple sunset shone in through the windows at the front of the car. I checked the time. It was 6:30.
September 12, I had received several fresh vegetables the previous week from some of the lovely people in my community, and, digging around in my fridge for something to make for dinner, I realized some of them were getting a little soft. I decided to use them in a stir-fry. As I began to chop the peppers, the chime signaling the end of the work day rang through the fields outside and into my open windows telling me it was 6:00. To my surprise, I found myself needing to switch on another light before the eggplants in the pan were tender. It was barely 6:10.
Maybe it's because I'm a summer person that the coming of fall seemed to sneak up on me out of nowhere. Maybe it's because I had just come back from a tropical climate, where the length of the day was relatively static. Or maybe it's because the seasons in Japan just have a way of making themselves known.
Though I'm a Hawaii girl through and through, going to school in Chicago for three years and surviving a polar vortex, I thought I knew seasons. But the seasons in Chicago blur together. October can give you 80ºF as well as snow. April will throw a 40ºF rise or drop in temperature highs at you in the span of 24 hours. It's as if the seasons, refusing to give up their places, are in a boxing match for dominance.
In comparison, the seasons in Japan are like Olympic relay runners, seamlessly passing the baton as they finish their individual laps. The first two days I was back were sweltering, with highs above 90ºF, but I haven't broken a standing sweat since. I close my bedroom windows at night now and have long since switched my thin, summer blanket out for a thick comforter. In the mornings, I wake up to a layer of dew adhering to my car.
And while the thought of the impending winter has me already praying for spring, I can't help but appreciate the beauty of early fall in Northern Hyogo. The trees, buzzing with the cicadas' songs, are still green and lush. And the deep, woody scent of smoke rising out of the fields lingers in the air as one by one the plots are harvested, slipping into hibernation until April.
In the mornings, just after sunrise, the cool air and high humidity combine to invite the clouds down out of the sky. They sit idly atop the mountains, foreshadowing the snow to come. Or snake between the valleys like a silk scarf caught in the wind. If Laputa were ever a real place, this would be it.
Perhaps the brilliant red maples that appear in later in the season make for a more impressive sight, but these gentle September days still ringing with the echoes of summer are really what makes this island girl almost happy to unpack her sweaters.