The wonderful thing about living in Japan is that there is always some event on the horizon to look forward to. Each seasonal change is marked and observed- the blooming of the wisteria, the arrival of the fireflies, the sudden bountifulness of peaches- and holidays are plentiful. I wanted to spend my remaining time in Japan taking full advantage of all the seasonal offerings in my little corner of the countryside and thankfully my friend Hiroko humored me by driving me to various remote and spectacular places.
At the beginning of May the temperatures really start to rise and the wisteria make a brief but spectacular appearance. All year long I had been waiting for the wisteria at Karatsu Castle- the blooming is an epic event thanks to an ancient and massive tree that sits in the castle courtyard. And I was definitely not disappointed. From a giant trellis the most fragrant and soft clouds of purple petals rain down all around you. It feels like you are dreaming the most incredible dream.
By June the wisteria are long gone but the hydrangeas are abundant. Nearby Karatsu is the small, small, small town of Ouchi, which boasts one of Japan's most beautiful waterfalls as well as the Hydrangea festival. Hiroko and I got lost on the way to the waterfall and flowers but it was a happy accident because we came across this incredible view:
The waterfall was also impressive and hydrangea bushes were literally everywhere, but sadly my camera could not capture its magnificence.
I also took in the hydrangea on a second trip to Nagasaki with Hannah. We chanced upon a heap of them by the Spectacles Bridge while in search of some Castella cake to bring back to Hiroko and Yamashita-Sensei. Proof that cake searching is always a rewarding endeavor!
The fireflies also arrive in June, attracted by all the rain. Everyone I knew was going nuts over the fireflies, which frankly I didn't really understand because I had the luxury to grow up in a place full of fireflies. But evidently they don't exist everywhere, and in Japan, like everything else, their time is short- just two weeks! Caught up in the pressure of ONLY TWO WEEKS and everyone's excitement, I decided that I simply HAD to experience Japanese fireflies.
Hiroko and I drove off into the countryside in search of fireflies and after getting lost and asking many obaachans (grandmothers) where the best viewing spot was, we simply pulled off to the side of the road by a stream and waited in the dark for their telltale glow. Japanese fireflies are pretty much exactly like Vermont fireflies, beautiful little creatures but not worthy of the hype. That is not to discount the magic of the night, however. Because it did have a kind of hushed magic to it. As we stood in the pitch dark, we spoke about Japan, and nature, and the seasons, about love and relationships, about all manner of life, half in Japanese, half in English, finding a way to understand each other despite our language and cultural differences. In my memory it was the perfect summer night, the darkness like velvet, soft and warm, our voices accompanied by the wind rustling the trees and the trickle of the stream, our attention diverted occasionally by the green glow of the fireflies calling out to their friends. It was a fleeting moment, and all the more beautiful because of it.
July was my last month in Japan and it was filled with a flurry of festivals and activity. First up was the Karatsu fireworks festival. Sort of along the same lines as the fireflies, I'd been promised that Japanese fireworks were amazing- even the English textbook my students used waxed rhapsodic about them. This time I knew better than to believe the hype, but I was still looking forward to this classic summer activity. I met my friends early to stake out a spot on the beach and to give myself plenty of time to peruse the yakitori stands, as well as enjoy the summer treat kakigori (flavored shaved ice). The excitement of the city was obvious and as it got darker the beach got more crowded. Lots of people were dressed in yukata, adding to the whole festival atmosphere. Finally the fireworks were launched over the ocean, and well, fireworks are fireworks, no matter where you are, but damn are they pretty!
|Giant maple to the left!|
After a few contemplative hours at the temple, Hiroko took me to her favorite kakigori place. Evidently this place was special because they shaved the ice in a very fine way. We both got matcha flavor and it was delicious! The perfect way to conclude a hot summer day.
I never thought I'd yearn for Japanese summer like I'm yearning for it now. Most of the time it was too hot to bother going outside, not to mention I came down with a terrible, lingering summer cold. But despite all that, I still managed to see and do so much. So it turns out my last few months in Japan were actually my favorite of my time there. It was the time I was most fully able to appreciate the bittersweet seasonal changes that are at the heart of Japanese culture.