One reason I fell in love with Japan is the way each season is embraced and celebrated. Living here has changed my view of them and of myself.
What is A Symphony of Cicadas about?
We are in tsuyu, the summer rainy season, which begins in June and lasts about six weeks. Before I came to Japan, I thought rain was just rain. In addition to these onomatopoeic words, there are many hundreds of expressions related to rain. Tsuyu is heavy-headed blue hydrangeas and firefly festivals. This meeting of the Hikoboshi Cowherd Star and the Orihime Weaver Star takes place on the seventh day of the seventh month, when they cross the shimmering river of stars on a bridge of magpie wings.
At all other moments, the lovers revolve in their private orbits, held aloft by the promise and consolation of their brief comings-together. Around our neighborhood, you can see Tanabata bamboo wishing trees: people write wishes on colored paper and tie them to the branches. After the rains come the broiling days of high summer. When my husband and I arrived here after graduate school, the temperature was in the 90s and the humidity about the same.
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We used all our savings to buy the biggest air conditioner we could afford, and sat in front of it on the tatami straw mat floor of our bare two-room apartment. A middle-aged woman who lived in a traditional wooden house on land that had been in the family for a century, she preferred a deep-mind cooling arrived at through the ting of a fuurin glass wind chime, the view of her garden through a bamboo screen, the reflection of passing clouds in the stone water basin, the lift and flow of a noren door curtain.
Though my husband and I remained attached to our air conditioner, I loved the idea that the sound of things can be cooling, so I bought a fuurin and hung it from the eaves. The fragile globes were painted with dragonflies and goldfish; a strip of paper inscribed with a poem hung from each clapper, lending a lyrical feeling to the refreshing sound of glass on glass.
The central Tokyo area, where we live, is rapidly modernizing: sento public baths and tofu makers are being replaced by reflexology salons and sunglasses shops; the fuurin seller is long gone. In summer, passing the pond in our neighborhood park, I heard plop-plopping as frogs jumped into the water at our approach.
It made me feel as though I were living the famous haiku by seventeenth-century Japanese poet Matsuo Basho:. A common summer sight is children running about in the park with nets, trying to catch cicadas. Around the end of July, the cicadas hatch after a year or more underground; one day they start singing or screaming, depending on how you feel about them , as suddenly as if turned on by a switch.
There are many species of cicada, so if you listen carefully their song is a symphony. Just before I thought we could leave the house, Joey had managed to squeeze into the shower at the last second, taking at least 30 minutes until the water was turned off. Then he needed to make his breakfast and decided that slow-cooked oatmeal made a much better meal than a quick bowl of cereal. Now it was past , the time we were supposed to be there, and I hated to be late. On my list of things to do that day, this was the most dreaded of all of them — especially since it required crossing the bridge to a town I had only visited a handful of times.
Despite the fact that the city held hundreds of suit shops that would have been fine, my sister had insisted we go to the same shop she had used for her wedding. The shop was located in rural Fairfax, a small town on the other side of the bridge known more for its bohemian roots than being forward-thinking. It seemed strange to find something as serious as wedding tuxedos in a town that held so much whimsy.
I had been impressed with the tailored look of her groomsmen, taking note of the material and sleek lines that made each man look polished and elegant. But after weeks of coordinating each groomsman toward the sleepy town rather than a location convenient to all of us, I was beginning to question this decision.
I let out a deep sigh in irritation. Besides, what big plans did you have for today? Another day, I would have been bothered by his deliberate quiet, and kept talking until I could get him to agree that this was a much better way to spend his time instead of holed up in his room staring at flashing images across a screen.
I had printed out a map before we left this morning, and I fumbled with the pages of directions as we drove the curvy roads. We both lurched forward, and he leaned his hands against the dash to break his fall. I did a quick glance in the rearview mirror and was relieved to see there was no one behind me who might have slammed into the back of my car and pushed us toward the edge of a steep hill.
The deer took one look at us and sprinted off into the forest below the windy road, disappearing into the trees that surrounded the tiny road we were on. He nodded, smiling in a gesture of peace. The earlier argument was forgotten, carried away with the wayward deer. Want me to hold the map and tell you when to turn? Joey took the map off the floor and turned it right-side in front of him.
He traced his finger on it and sighed in frustration. Joey peered at where my finger was pointing, and relaxed when he figured out where this road was taking us. I could feel him grin next to me as we drove the rest of the way to the shop. The trees began to give way, revealing a small town beyond the forest.
Modest, colorful buildings hugged up against each other with little or no space between them. They appeared to be homes remodeled into businesses, complete with front walkways surrounded by lawns. The only thing that set them apart from being living quarters were the whimsical wooden signs that served as enticing sirens meant to draw in customers with their charm. Twirling kites and flags adorned many storefronts, a prelude to storytelling window displays that ranged from vintage to modern scenes. The shops of Fairfax would have been swallowed up where I lived, their sweet dispositions crushed by the gruffness of a hardened city.
The pink bridal shop lay at the end of a cul-de-sac, mannequin brides in powder puff dresses looking out at us with a knowing glance as they stood next to faceless groomsmen. Joey looked at me with disdain. She just needs to measure you for the tux.
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We both stepped out of the car and into the feminine shop. Bridal gowns, bridesmaid dresses and tuxedos, displayed in colorful themes, gave sketches of all the possibilities that could be put in motion. I felt a pang of regret that we were planning a November wedding instead of getting married on a beach in July.
The regret deepened when I saw the delicate lightweight bridal dresses, perfect for walking barefoot across warm sand. I shook off the moment of disappointment.
Besides, even in the summer months, San Francisco is not the place for a beach wedding. How are you! We were running behind. This is my son, Joey. Darcy pulled out her measuring tape and went to work. In just a few moments she was already finished. I nodded and smiled. She brushed it aside and gave me another warm embrace before turning and doing the same with Joey.
I glanced at my watch and saw that it was almost noon. My stomach rumbled to remind me that while Joey had enjoyed a full breakfast, I still needed to eat something. I smiled an apology at Darcy, but she shooed us out with a smile. Beside me, Joey gave a sigh of relief. He turned to me in disbelief as we got into the car. What was so awful about that? What the heck are you talking about?
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The boys. When she was measuring my leg, her hand brushed against it. She had touched his penis during her measurements. And while the measurements had taken only a few moments, it must have lasted a lifetime for my teenage son. Judging by the way Joey slumped even lower in his seat, it may even have been an eternity. As I grasped what Joey was telling me, the laughter started bubbling up from deep inside me. I tried my hardest not to laugh, but I was almost crying by the time I gave up and burst out laughing.
I bit my lip and shook with silent laughter.