In Nagoya, my home for three years, there is a display at the municipal science museum showcasing the annual rainfall in the city. They used test tubes and blue beads to depict the amount of rain. Most of the tubes were empty save a handful in June for the rainy season and a couple in September when a typhoon came ashore. The kids and I counted and did some quick math: 356 sunny days. Nagoya is a concrete desert so it is incredibly hot in the summer and incredibly cold in the winter with strong winds blowing through in between. Prior to living in Nagoya, we were on Gotou for two years. Two years of hail, thunderstorms, ceaseless rain, hail, constant cloud coverage. 356 days of sunshine seemed worth the blistering heat and the bitter cold.
We came back to Gotou fully aware of what we were getting into but it does not mean that I do not complain about the weather. It does mean that the rare days of blue skies and warm breezes make me dance with my children and sing silly made-up songs that embarrass the older ones. I am trying to accept and appreciate the temperamental weather. We live on an island in the sea: it is part of the deal. Gorgeous beaches, delicious food, cozy small town life, and a magnetic for every cloud that travels up and down the East China Sea.
As part of my effort to embrace the erratic climate, I am documenting it and learning how to describe it. Japanese is useful for this purpose since it is brimming over with rain-based terminology. Look at this list of words used just for describing the intensity of the rain:
弱雨 じゃくう jakuu weak rain
小雨 こさめ kosame light rain
小降り こぶり koburi light rain
微雨 びう biu light rain
小糠雨 こぬかあめ konukaame fine rain
煙雨 えんう enu misty rain
細雨 さいう saiu drizzle
多雨 たう tau heavy rain
大雨 おおあめ ooame heavy rain
強雨 きょうう kyouu severe rain
横降り よこぶり yokoburi driving rain
吹き降り ふきぶり fukiburi driving rain
篠突く雨 しのつくあめ shinotsukuame intense rain
集中豪雨 しゅうちゅうごうう shuuchuugouu severe localized downpour
I was looking over these words today, trying to accurately describe the heavy rain that had been coming down since midnight. I stood outside, immediately soaked, looking at the flooded garden next door. What is the difference, I wondered, between severe, driving, and intense? And since the storm seems to be just passing over us, does it qualify as a severe localized downpour, even though it has been pouring down for over twelve hours? I think what I should do is combine all the terms into a new kanji that will represent Gotou’s specific rain. Most likely if I studied Gotou dialect (Gotou-ben) more, I would find that there is already an entire set of words designed just for island weather.
Of course that would require going outside to find someone willing to teach me Gotou-ben and, well, it’s raining.