“And she learned that you couldn’t stockpile anything that mattered, really. Feelings, people, songs, seasons, sex, fireworks: they existed only in time, and when it was over, so were they.”
Gaikokujin often joke that Japan claims to be the only country with seasons. “Do you have winter in your country?” is not an uncommon question asked of foreigners. To be fair, I also laughed the first time I heard the punchline and while the question of other seasons seams a bit ridiculous I can’t help but recognise that Japan does seasons a bit differently to most. Granted, I come from a country with moderate temperatures and a penchant for marking time with Christian traditions and birthdays. In just over a year of living here I’ve successfully managed to forget about Christmas, Easter and Valentines day. My birthday even took a backseat this year. Seasons however, they’ve been front a center. It’s impossible to miss the Sakura craze when the streets are lined with beautiful blossoms and everything from beer cans to street decorations to Starbucks mugs turn pink. The same goes for autumn, winter and summer of course.
My idea of summer has always meant long beach days dripping in suncream, sand and salt. Daytime deep house raves, rainbows of fruit and vitamin-D induced daytime slumbers. An endless summer, if you will. Naturally, the afore mentioned routine occurs in areas of Japan, Okinawa perhaps. But for the most part, a Japanese Summer equates to a two month long montage of flamboyant fireworks displays, parades of youthful Yukata and locales lined with street food and osake. Roads are dressed in festival appropriate decor, mostly a mix of sunflowers and Tanabata style trinkets – glossy streamers, dazzling lanterns and iridescent origami. Groups of girls done up in hair and make-up (specially for the occasion) shimmy through the streets eating shaved ice and snacking on sweet clouds of cotton candy. And as an anime plot would have it, expect to see handholding couples floating through the crowds in complementary Yukata, young love et al. Overhead, the stars animate into fireworks, illuminating the sky in a spectacle of colour and light. A perfectly curated crescendo of sparkling smoke and sound. Summer hanabi.
The direct English translation of hanabi is “fire flower” and while it’s expressed as “fireworks” I’d like to think the former translation is somewhat more apt. Hanabi are to summer as sakura are to spring, both magnificent in their ephemerality – breathtakingly transient. The apparent beauty of both seasonal motifs undoubtedly independent of their lasting forever.
That said, it’s been a blissfully magical season and whilst it’s coming to an end with a classic air of Lana Del Rey-like sadness, I can’t help but appreciate the passing of a Summer thoroughly celebrated and absolutely acknowledged.
A fleeting flash of heat and light and happiness.
Until next year, Natsu (夏).