Four Seasons (四季)
Sunday, September 1
Earlier this year I worked an assignment in Akita. While there I made friends with a coworker, John. We kept in touch but hadn’t seen each other since February. Akita is a four-hour bullet train (新幹線) ride away. However John was coming through Tokyo before backpacking through South America.
John rolled in around 5 and we made a beeline for Devil Craft, home of Chicago deep dish pizza and excellent microbrews. We split a pizza and put a few pints down. After dinner we caught a train and made it to Shinjuku (新宿) for the main event: the Shinjuku Robot Restaurant.
The restaurant combines women in bikinis, robots and dinosaurs. Imagine if you gave a 14-year-old boy a two million dollar budget and told him to make something both sexy and cool. That’s what this was.
John and I weren’t sure what to expect but we were not disappointed. The five acts ranged from Taiko challenges, to dinosaurs, to the crusades, to Captain America, planes vs. tanks, to giant robots dancing ‘Gangnam Style,’ , all whilst bikini clad babes danced around. I knew it was serious when a kung fu panda rode around on a deranged dairy cow.
Then suddenly it was over. The lights came up and we sat there stupefied. Deaf and blind.
“What just happened,” John asked.
“I don’t know,” I replied, “but I think I liked it.”
Upstairs the staff handed us a satisfaction survey in English.
On a scale of 1-5, how much did you enjoy tonight’s show?
Thursday, September 5
Trevor returned to Japan after a month back home. He needed a place to stay and was waiting for me as I finished work. The teaching staff was having a beer in the park after work and so Trevor and I joined them. He caught a train north to my digs and picked up some bentos (弁当) and beer. We shot the breeze and caught up. It was good to have my friend back.
Sunday, September 8
I woke up and checked the headlines.
Tokyo to Host 2020 Olympics.
That was a great way to start the day.
I moved to southern Tokyo for a farewell/welcome dinner. The previous day had been my last day at Ikebukuro (池袋) and I had helped train two new teachers through the week. After 12 weeks with the students and staff at Ikebukuro it was time to move on. 15 staff members came out for dinner and drinks. It was so nice to see everyone one last time. However, I have done this more than three times before. The new teachers hadn’t had any welcome parties. So I tried to shift as much attention as possible to them. This was for them.
Goodbye Ikebukuro, it was a pleasure.
If you ask a Japanese person what’s unique to Japan, they’re likely to tell you the seasons. Apparently no other country on earth experiences the four seasons. Sarcasm.
If I make take that answer and be a bit more articulate, Japan experiences four drawn-out seasons. Each season lasts for weeks if not months. Having more than one weekend to appreciate the changes in temperature, nature and humans is an absolute delight that I will miss.
The Japanese calendar, for all intents and purposes starts in April, with the start of spring (春). With new plants and baby animals, people start school and new jobs. It’s a must to get outside and enjoy the cherry blossoms with friends and family.
In June, spring turns to summer (夏) and the temperature heats up. People go to the beach and complain incessantly about the heat. Sweet drinks and thin clothing is all the rage. The humidity and sun cook everything outside. The days are long.
In September, the heat begins to break and autumn (秋) arrives. People again start new activities and make resolutions. Typhoons in southern Japan turn into tropical storms in Tokyo. The leaves start changing colors and people chase after them with cameras. Scarves and mittens come out. Autumn harvest foods hit the table.
In December, winter (冬) begins to come over Tokyo. The air dries up and humidifiers come out. Facemasks are prolific. The days are very short. People stay in and have nabe (鍋) parties. New Year’s comes and people return to their hometowns to see their families. An occasional snow falls on Tokyo, paralyzing the city. In early March the frost begins to recede and we start the whole thing over again.
The changing seasons give many people something to look forward to. They are very, very important to the economy. And for many people, like yours truly, they give the year definition. For the rest of my life, the smell of rain on crumpled leaves will immediately transport me back to Kyoto in 2010.
The times may change, but the seasons will keep on.