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Saturday, May 28, 2011

News photo
Cow bling accessorizes this author's umbrella. AMY CHAVEZ PHOTO


Here comes the rainy season boot camp

It's May and Kyushu has already officially entered the rainy season. The rest of Japan is not far behind. What, no spring? Well, we all know what happened to spring this year. It headed to the Middle East: The Arab Spring. Let someone else have some of it.

So, if the rainy season hasn't started yet in the rest of Japan, then what's with all this rain? I call it rainy season boot camp. A little practice now will come in handy when you're confronted with the real rainy season later.

For example, people on my island are already practicing the "yanda dash." This is when, especially during seemingly endless downpours during the rainy season, the rain stops for a little bit and people feel the uncontrollable urge to exclaim, "Yanda!" ("the rain has stopped!") and dash out to do things during this tiny interval of no rain. It's amazing how much you can get accomplished in just a few minutes if you put your mind to it.

On our island, where most people don't have cars, the small supermarket can become inundated with people doing the yanda dash from their houses to the grocery store. If you were coming to our island on the ferry and arrived here between rain bursts, you'd think thousands of people lived here. But it's really just a few hundred people descending on the supermarket as if stocking up on food for the next "Rapture."

Another thing to keep in mind for the rainy season is that your umbrella is your best friend. You might think your best friend would be your colleague or someone from childhood. But this season you will spend more time with your umbrella as you go puddle splashing together and help each other through some slippery situations. Your umbrella will probably even leave you once (maybe several times), usually near the door of a store or restaurant.

If you've lived in Japan for a while, you also know that puddle splashing isn't just for kids. You'll be doing it every day soon! In a country where no one wears galoshes, you might be surprised that some of the puddles here are the size of Lake Biwa. You'll be walking along a sidewalk and suddenly be brought to a standstill. As you survey the white caps moving across the puddle, you realize you have two choices: run through it hoping to hydroplane to the other side on your soles, or get a running start and jump, hoping you clear it and keep your shoes dry. Jesus was lucky. He never had to make these decisions.

If you fail in either of these attempts, everyone at the office will be able to tell because you'll have shoe die all over your socks. Of course, that wouldn't have happened if you had opted for that more expensive pair of shoes.

For ages umbrellas have doubled as walking sticks, drawing-directions-on-the-sidewalk sticks and as pointers in nature's Power Point presentation of life. My question is, why stop there?! Old ladies are known to secure seats on trains with these things.

There must be many more creative uses of the umbrella. I even suspect that umbrellas were once used in martial arts. What other device can shield and deflect rain and sun, two of the most powerful and harmful elements? The umbrella's cousin, the parasol, has been used as a prop in Japanese dance for years.

There will be times during the rainy season when you will realize you forgot your umbrella somewhere. You may even have to go back to retrieve it. But don't worry: when you get older that's how you'll lose most things. Get used to it.

For the most part, in this country umbrellas are not shared by two people when walking, so get your own. It's worth it to buy a good one rather than one of those clear, plastic cheapies from the convenience store. A good umbrella should be opaque enough to give you some privacy too.

One would think that in Japan, where so many people use umbrellas for so many days of the year, they would have customized them a bit by now. Like umbrellas with a string to pull down a shade to protect yourself from especially vicious angles of rain that whip up while you're waiting at the bus stop. Or similar extensions you could pull down around your own private halo of dryness. Not to mention how handy umbrella-compatible waterproof fax machines, scanners and computers would be for the mobile computing generation.

It's perhaps more surprising that in Japan they haven't come up with completely useless accessories for umbrellas such as Hello Kitty bling to hang on the ends of the studs, or little clip-on strawberries to match those on your Crocs. That piece of metal sticking out at the top of the umbrella is dying for some kind of ornament to spice it up — a plastic green frog perhaps? And the umbrella handle is the perfect vehicle to hang completely irrelevant umbrella enhancement straps, baubles and other stringed souvenirs from Disneyland to Okinawa.

Now there's a business idea for you to think about on a rainy day.

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