Japan in all its seasons (almost)

It takes me a while to settle into new places. OK, understatement of a lifetime; it takes me at least six months before I start to feel comfortable in a new place. I'm sure I'm not alone in this. It takes time to put down even the tiniest of roots. I like to join things, Brownies, choir, some kind of class. I like to be able to recognise my neigbours and the guy in the Co-op, find a hairdresser and know a good place for lunch with friends. In short, I try to map out familiar landmarks to develop the sense that I belong in a place. And this second time in Japan, I found that I had started to find a few such landmarks already.
It was amazing in fact how much of the local area was very familiar, but even more delightful was the chance to see it at the change of season from Winter to Spring. The area where Logan works is quite rural, which means that changes in the natural surroundings have a big impact on the general feel of the place. The most striking difference was the absence of the bright green rice crop, which in summer covers almost every available plot of land. Large patches of dusty, brown, cultivated soil replaced the green, and coupled to the bare tree branches, it could have seemed very grey. But fortunately the Japanese obsession with colour in every season means that there were early Spring flowers popping up everywhere, and thoughtfully planted evergreens dotted here and there. I was lucky with the weather too. None of the drizzly rain of an English Spring for Japan. Instead, we had crisp, cool, sunny days, the kind that light jackets were made for, but which usually require a sturdy umbrella in England.
The difference in the seasons was also noticeable in the wildlife. Compared with the scorching heat of July and August, March's mild weather meant I both saw and heard considerably more birds this time than on my first visit, although not so many cranes, presumably they wait for the rice fields to be in full swing. But I saw Tokai's local star bird, the "white eye", along with an incredible number of sparrows, bulbuls, starlings and wagtails. On one of our lunches in the park, we caught a glimpse of an early butterfly, but there were no frogs yet, nor the huge diversity of giant, screeching insects that attended my last visit.
As well as all of these small changes in the wildlife, we did have a couple of stand-out wildlife moments. Allow me to relate...
The first was on that first beautiful, cold weekend up in the hills in Hakone. I have already told you about the little craft village that we found at the other end of the lake, but somehow I forgot to mention that as we walked back to the railway station, we looked behind us up into the mountains and saw a magnificent bird of prey circling surprisingly low in the sky above us. Although I am used to seeing kestrels and buzzards over the fields back home, the sight of this beauty so obviously hunting just above our heads gave me a little shiver. After a little bit of research, I now believe that what we saw was a black kite. A first for me. I wasn't able to capture a photo of it, so I have borrowed the one below from another Hakone birding blog post (link)
Black Kite 
Our second wildlife encounter happened while we were strolling round the park one sunny lunchtime. As we rounded a bend, Logan gestured to me to be quiet and pointed out a little orange weasel scampering about on the grass. As we watched, frozen still, it ran across our path and into the bushes on the other side, where we followed it along until it disappeared completely. There is something very special about seeing wild mammals. I suppose with the exception of rabbits, they are a pretty uncommon sight. Besides which, a Japanese Weasel is another first!
Now that I have seen the difference the seasons can make to my experience of Japan, I am both excited to see it again in Summer, and also to see it in Autumn and Winter. It is probably my English heritage that has led me to see seasons as a fairly woolly concept, meaning slightly different kinds of rain, some, fairly unpredictable changes in average temperatures and varying amounts of daylight. In Japan there is no such blurring of the boundaries between seasons. When I arrived it was grey and overcast and cold and I had to buy a bobble hat and gloves; by the time I left Spring had started and the days were fair and sunny and I didn't always wear a coat to go outside! Now that I think of it, even in England I still thrill to the sight of the first snowdrops and crocuses and then look for daffodils and lambs and then garden flowers and fruit trees and the harvest and then the golden brown leaves and the geese flying overhead and the sound of robins chirping from the tops of fence-posts. Suddenly I feel very lucky to have witnessed the changing of the seasons in Japan. I may not have quite stayed long enough for the great bloom of cherry blossoms, but I certainly have a better understanding of the Japanese tradition of celebrating the start of each new season. 
Bring on natsu matsuri 2016! (Summer festival)


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