Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Dunder and Blixem

I've written elsewhere about the rainy season; the one that has just begun here in Kanto seems to have brought an unusual amount of thunder and lightning with it. I usually expect thunderstorms later in the summer, but there have been some pretty dramatic ones in the last couple of weeks, and some real downpours reminiscent of tropical squalls.

In the last couple of years the so-called "guerrilla rains"-- abrupt, violent, unpredictable, localized heavy rains--have caused several fatal accidents, and recently a lightning strike caused a fire that burned a house down. Not long ago I read of a fellow who was killed when lightning struck him on the highway as he was commuting by motorcycle.

So, although I'm not unaware that there's an..ahem...element of danger involved, in general, I really like thunderstorms. I like the feeling of charged tension in the air, and I like the flash and crash of the lightning and the rumbling of the thunder. If I'm inside, I like the pounding of the rain on roofs or the rapid-fire rattle of hail.

One of the most memorable experiences of my life was when, on one of many climbs of Mt. Fuji, I had the unusual opportunity of standing high up on the mountain, looking down into the top of a thunderstorm that was savaging the lower slopes. The grape-sized hail and the head-sized ball of electricity that slid down a mountain hut's phone line and destroyed the telephone came later that day, and were only slightly less memorable.

One of the most exciting experiences was driving over a pass from Aomori to Akita through a particularly aggressive thunderstorm, with frequent and close lashings of lightning making me wonder what would happen if one were to hit the four large, metal, full gasoline cans I had on the car's roof. The term "blaze of glory" came immediately to mind.

No matter how much I enjoy thunderstorms, though, I can't really say that I like riding a bike through one, particularly wearing only marginal rain gear. I usually try to avoid that, but I'm not always successful.

Yesterday the weather was forecast to have a 70% chance of rain in the evening. I decided to take a chance and ride the bike, because I wanted to have it available this morning for a doctor's appointment at a hospital that's really inconvenient to reach by train. When I left the office it was raining, so a couple of colleagues and I took shelter in a nice little wine bar/restaurant behind my office, to wait out the squall: I thought that it might stop later on for long enough to keep me dry until I reached my fairly close destination. It looked as if I'd made a good call, too, since after an hour or so it stopped raining and actually looked as if it was clearing, if you ignored some flashing and rumbling.

Regardless of the absence of rain, I should have paid attention to the flashes and rumbles. I only got about three kilometers down the road before the deluge began, and I was soaked through before I'd gone another klick. I almost made it, but almost isn't good enough. My waterproof vest (Why would anyone make a sleeveless waterproof garment?) kept out the water fairly well, as did the water resistant windbreaker I wore under it. This was no ordinary gentle shower, though, so water ran down the curve of my helmet and into my collar and down my back and chest. The rain also forced its way through the zippers on the pockets of the vest, soaking everything inside. My jeans were, naturally, drenched, as was everything in my pockets--my wallet looked as if it had gone through the washing machine--and as were my sneakers and socks.

This morning the weather was beautifully sunny and warm, and the air had that clear, clean quality that--in Tokyo, anyway--you only see after a major rain. As I rode toward the hospital, I admired all the hydrangeas in bloom (hydrangeas are a special favorite of mine), and tried to ignore the ominous rainclouds on the horizon. It's supposed to rain tonight, too, but I'm betting that I can get out of the office and to my destination before tonight's storm begins.

[If you don't understand the title, you might want to look here.]

Friday, June 5, 2009


My old friend and comrade in long-ago adventures centered around San Diego, California, and points south, is now a respectable retired naval officer working and living in the US Pacific Northwest. He astonished me by inquiring about the recent scarcity of my blog posts: I didn't think that anyone was paying attention.

Then my friend pointed me to a blog by a fellow here in Japan of whom I had been unaware, who mentioned my weekly column--a sort of quasi-blog--and whose post caused me further astonishment by saying that he'd read through most of the five years' worth of posts. He's good, and a much more prolific blogger than I am...and I'm sorry if that sounds as if I'm damning with faint praise.

There's no real reason for surprise, of course, but I still find it amusing that my old Navy buddy (who, by the way, lived in Japan for a while...a fact of which I was at the time unfortunately ignorant) on the other side of the Pacific came across a local mention of me before I did.

Not profound, I know. Nothing to see here. Move along...