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Saturday, Sept. 4, 2004


Typhoon No. 16 brings real flower power

All we could do was wait. We all knew the Big Hibiscus was coming from its tropical roots south of Okinawa. The flower, in full bloom, had already hit Kagoshima and was now headed our way. Who ever imagined the hibiscus could be such a violent flower?

It seems the idea to start naming typhoons has been a blunder. This typhoon, officially designated as "big," was named Chaba, which means Hibiscus in Thai. You would think they would be more careful about naming typhoons after flowers. Victims of Chaba will never be able to enjoy the beauty of a hibiscus again. And the hibiscus ought to sue the meteorological authorities for libel.

I can think of a few more appropriate names for typhoons, such as Hemlock, a poisonous plant. Or, if they must stick with plants, how about simply Big Weed?

Makes you wonder who is in charge of naming typhoons or why a country with over 20 typhoons per year feels a need to have names for them at all. For years now, Japan has just given typhoons numbers, starting over at 1 each year.

My island of 700 people in the Seto Inland Sea was hit by the Big Hibiscus, but not as badly as some other places in Japan. Whereas other places must have been thrashed by the entire pistil, we got hit by just a few petals. We lost one "minshuku" on the beach, where the seawater flooded the entire first floor. I'm pretty sure I saw a hibiscus stamen sticking out of one of the broken windows.

A few of the flimsier houses on the beach just disappeared. This confirms my belief that if they're going to make tiny houses like they do in Japan, they ought to build them in the beds of four-wheel-drive trucks. That way we could just move them out of danger. With the added worry of earthquakes in Japan, think of how much help the shocks in a four-wheel-drive truck would be. If worse came to worse and your house still didn't survive the earthquake, you could just drive it to the dump.

The Big Hibiscus hit us at night. The telephone lines were down and the electricity was already out by midnight, when high tide was around its peak. This is when my cell phone started ringing:

"Amy, daijobu?" ("Are you OK?") It was a call from the restaurant on the beach.

"I'm not sure. I haven't looked out my window for a while," I said, going over to open the storm shutters to peek out onto the port.

Next -- and this is what I love about the Japanese -- she started laughing. "Maybe it's better not to look," she said.

This is what the Japanese do when they feel a little nervous about a situation -- they laugh. And it definitely takes the edge off things.

"Ah! The water is lapping right up against my house -- it's about a foot from the window!" I said, realizing I no longer lived on the port, but in it. We were both laughing now.

"How about the restaurant?" I asked.

"The whole beach is sea," she said, "and the water is right up to our door." Peals of laughter.

And the phone calls continued in this vein. We would all just accept our fate -- laughing.

But all things happen for a reason, and in this case I believe it was God's way of saying, clean out your houses! He knew it would take a natural disaster to make residents clean houses that have not been cleaned in decades. To ensure we'd throw out even the flood-damaged appliances (never put anything past the old folks), he knew the government would take pity on typhoon victims and let us throw out large items without having to pay for their disposal. No wonder people waited until now to throw out washing machines with the cranks still on them.

I leaped at the opportunity to throw out a bicycle and a refrigerator. If I'd had a few more people to help, I would have thrown out my house -- the entire structure. With the savings from being able to dispose of the house for free, I could have built a new one. On the back of my four-wheel-drive truck.

Get Amy's "Guidebook to Japan: What the other guidebooks won't tell you" at the Dollar Book Store: mooooshop.com/MooooBooks/order/index.htm

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