Sunday, October 07, 2007

Wabi Sabi

Autumn pounced on us suddenly yesterday. The humidity was gone, the air was crisp and sky, a lovely blue. The change was dramatic and shocking, but oh so Japanese.

The Japanese love telling people how one of the nicest things about Japan is that "it has four distinct seasons." I used to laugh and tell them, "You're not the only one. Europe has distinct seasons. So do many parts of the American Continent…" But I'm beginning to understand what they mean.

In Coastal California, the seasons are long and fuzzy. The rainy winter season might not be rainy at all. It can feel like summer for weeks. Summers can be chilly. Or freakishly hot. Many years it is both. I was amazed at how we had irises blooming for months! I think the last one bloomed in mid- or late-summer. The hydrangeas are still rioting. Wisteria are around forever.

Not so in Japan. Cherry blossoms come in late March or early April and bloom quite suddenly. Then, a week later, they abruptly scatter, carpeting streets, parks, neighborhoods in tissue pink. Azaleas have a slightly longer season, but you won't see any in the early spring or summer. We associate hydrangeas with the rainy season. When the rain is over (abruptly, one day) the hot humid summer jumps in and any hydrangeas still around will brown and wilt in a matter of days, if not hours.

Cut in, cut out. There are no long dissolves here.

It's nurtured a certain kind of sensibility in Japanese people. We love the melancholy associated with fleeting beauty. We dislike that which tenaciously hangs on. It's the kind of sensibility that created its own form of Buddhism, Zen. And kamikaze pilots. Life is beautiful because it's so temporary, so short.

The air now is filled with the sweet smell of kinmokusei. It's like jasmine and candy and a young girl's first perfume. A little piece of heaven for the hard working masses.

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