We arrived in Japan from sunny, coastal Southern California, where the weather is almost always perfect and the sun shines without humidity and the sky is blue and the air smells like the ocean. We looked forward to experiencing four seasons in Japan. My kids had never lived anywhere with real changing seasons and my husband who is from Chicago missed them.
In the past year we’ve seen sights that we’ve never seen at our house in California. Fire red autumn leaves on the trees, snow falling outside our front door, cherry blossoms bursting on branches like popcorn, and a whole lot of torrential rain and gusty wind. I’ve never needed an umbrella so often in my life. And that includes living in Chicago and Washington, DC.
On Sunday, October 22, we got a visit from a massive typhoon named Lan. Lan passed over us with the ferocity of a tiger and the booming thunder of a locomotive train. I read later that the cloud cover was larger than the entire country of Japan. It was the kind of wind that makes you walk backward even though you are trying to move forward. Since I’m from a place without seasons, much less even rain, typhoons are a new experience for me. It rained all day so some of us spent the day in our pajamas. There wasn’t any reason to go out really. Halyard and I thought about braving the trip to downtown Osaka to go take a hip hop dance class. But the lure of staying dry and warm inside won out.
I wondered about the difference between a typhoon and a hurricane. In the US we all talk about hurricanes and there’s never any mention of typhoons. Here in Japan it’s the opposite. According to NOAA (US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) “the only difference between a hurricane, a cyclone, and a typhoon is the location where the storm occurs.” Interesting! I had no idea.
“Hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons are all the same weather phenomenon; we just use different names for these storms in different places. In the Atlantic and Northeast Pacific, the term “hurricane” is used. The same type of disturbance in the Northwest Pacific is called a “typhoon” and “cyclones” occur in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean.”
At one point in the early evening John and Halyard decided to go out for a walk in the typhoon. They went out separately because we only have one, perfect-for-a-typhoon or a sail-around-the-ocean, Marmont rain jacket (I gave it to John for his birthday one year). So they had to take turns with it. It was much too windy for umbrellas, even the awesome ones with extra hinges made for stormy wind that my parents sent us. John finally got out of his pajamas and into jeans and a sweater. When he got back from his walk he said the wind was really whirling.
By the time Halyard went out, an hour later, it was raining and blowing even harder. Halyard stayed out for a long time, he even texted John to tell him how much fun he was having wandering around in the typhoon. When he got back he was soaking wet. Halyard had not bothered to get out of his thin pajamas before going outside, so his pajama pants were drenched with water. I could wring them out and fill a small bucket. Halyard said the wind was so fierce that it blew his glasses right off his face! That would be amazing except that Halyard has completely stretched out the arms of his frame so that it doesn’t take much to fling his glasses off.
At dinnertime the kids’ phones all sounded a musical alarm. It was pleasant, yet loud and alarming at the same time. It’s the Japanese warning alert system. But the messages that all come across are completely in Japanese so we weren’t sure what they said. The next day my friend told me that the alarm messages said that if you live in an older house (not sure what qualifies as “older” in Japan since everything is old here) you should evacuate to a shelter.
The kids went to bed but only Avalon fell asleep. Kaiyo and Halyard said the wind kept them awake. The wind definitely kept me awake. I was in the upstairs bedroom watching the big trees blow around like feathers in the wind. It was shaking the house like a never ending earthquake. Also, across the street is a very large apartment building that currently has a lot of metal scaffolding and sheets over it. The sheets were whipping in the wind and they were unbelievably loud banging on the scaffolding and the building. John was downstairs reading, where the effects of the wind were not nearly as strong as upstairs. I could not fall asleep. The wind was crazy loud and the house kept shaking. It felt wobbly.
Later I woke John up to tell him the wind was crazy. Unfortunately John has a hard time falling back asleep once he’s been woken up so that wasn’t very nice of me. But it was scary wind. Around 1am John started to get nervous too. He thought that maybe we should wake up the kids and all go downstairs. I said, do you really think this house is going to fall down? I didn’t think it was going to fall down but at the same time it didn’t feel safe either. John ended up going downstairs by himself and he left the rest of us upstairs! I don’t know when I finally fell asleep but it couldn’t have been before 2am.
Well, we made it to the light of day. There was a chance that school might be cancelled on Monday but we got an e-mail from the headmaster at 6am letting us know that school is ON. The kids were disappointed!
When we opened the windows at 6am, the sky was blue, the sun was bright, the clouds were fluffy white and the wind was still out there. The kids got off to school at 8:15am. I got on the bike and rode to the produce market. On the way I saw that neighbors on every street were already out in force cleaning up their sidewalks, steps, front patios, driveways, gutters, everywhere people were already whisking away the leaves and branches. The park near my friend’s house already had more than a dozen piles of leaves all around, ready to be put in bags. I couldn’t believe the Japanese efficiency! I went home to get my camera, but by the time I got back out to take some photos of the mess and the clean up, the mess was almost all gone!There really wasn’t a lot of damage where we live. Just some fallen trees, or falling like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. However, up on the path to the Minoh waterfall there was a lot of typhoon mess. The City of Minoh closed the path to the waterfall right after the typhoon and it has yet to open again. I’ve gone there three times to see the autumn colors but it’s closed. A guard told us the path probably wouldn’t open again for the rest of the year.Incidentally, the day before the typhoon was Saturday, October 21. I’ve had this date marked in my calendar for a long time. I was determined to go to To-ji Temple in Kyoto to the monthly flea market that is held there on the 21st of each month. It happened to be on a Saturday in October so I wanted all of us to go there as a family. I said maybe we would find some Japanese treasures. But it was so rainy that day. It was so hard to look at anything. Everyone had an umbrella that was getting in your face, or your umbrella was getting in someone else’s face. The rain kept pouring off the umbrellas and onto the tables with people’s handicrafts. So it was a bit of a bust. But luckily every month has a 21st in it, so we’ll be going back.Now I can say I’ve lived through a hurricane, even though it was called a typhoon. Check. I don’t need to experience it again!