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Friday, Sept. 27, 2002
Plenty of reasons to enjoy the predictable pleasures of fall
By KAORI SHOJI
The Japanese have long described themselves as people who value the solidity of sameness. Anyone who has ever seen "Mito Komon" on TV will know what this means: the same dialogue, the same roles and the same big sword fight exactly 45 minutes into the program, all going on for many decades to general approval. Times change and things happen, but the Japanese will always find solace in unchanging phenomena. And aki (autumn) is one of them.
Autumn is more than a season; it's a favored ceremony in a country obsessed with yoshikibi (the beauty of set patterns) and a chance to become more nihonteki (Japanesey) than usual. Fuyu (winter) has been taken over by Christmas and its trappings, haru (spring) is too hectic and natsu (summer) is just too splashy and suggestive of Club Med vacations.
Aki creates the proper frame of mind for a little patriotism. So the ad agencies, manufacturers and TV networks join up to launch one autumn campaign after another -- and they're usually the same, year after year. This yoshikibi is one thing to be counted on in an uncertain world -- and it's all designed to loosen the purse strings that had been tied tight during the lean summer season.
It's autumn, they say; Time for "geijutsu no aki (the autumn of art)," meaning special exhibitions at museums and galleries. (It's no coincidence that Culture Day, bunka no hi, is slated for the beginning of November). Department-store food halls offer shoppers a "shokuyoku no aki (autumn of appetite)," featuring seasonal foods like shinmai (new rice), expensive matsutake mushrooms, kuri (chestnuts), etc. And then there's "spotsu no aki (the autumn of sports)" when Health-Sports Day rolls around the second week of October, causing schools and corporations to organize undokai (sports-day events).
It's as if the Japanese ignore these things all year round to suddenly pick them up again in the fall. And spurred by the autumn spending mood, people consume more beer in aki than any other time of the year -- including summer. There's even a seasonal brew called "Akiaji (taste of autumn)."
Nature, too, becomes generous. The clouds disperse into a lovely pattern called urokogumo (fish-scale clouds) and in late afternoon akatombo (red dragonflies) fly about. The air becomes crisp and cool, bringing with it that most treasured of all Japanese weather words: sawayaka (fresh and clean). It's only during these few weeks that weather-report folks get to pronounce this word with relish -- most other times it's just too wet, too cold, too hot or too dry.
In mid-autumn the skies are always sunny and there's just a very slight nip in the air. The ad people call it aki takenawa (the peak of autumn) and urge us to take pleasure in our lives, spend time with family, give thanks to nature -- and buy something. That's OK, any excuse will have us opening our wallets anyway. It's no wonder analysts say autumn consumption patterns predict the coming fiscal year.
And finally, here are some autumn ways of avoiding jinxes. Couples who break up in the summer always have a chance of mending the rift in fall. And though everyone says that couples who go for a date at Tokyo Disneyland will soon split up, this noroi (curse) does not apply to those who go in the fall. The logic here is that lovebirds are less likely to get irritated by the long lines, since the weather is more amenable to standing around and waiting. The same applies to couples who go for boat rides in Inokashira Park and other cursed dating venues.
It probably stands to reason that "aki no kekkon wa rikonga sukunai (people who marry in the fall are less likely to divorce)."