Perfect storms

Greecejapan_Typhoon

Text and photo by Grigoris A. Miliaresis

After earthquakes, the natural phenomenon that brings more concern to friends and relatives of expatriates living in Japan are typhoons; especially those living in Europe where the phenomenon rarely occurs, are genuinely impressed every time international media discover that some typhoon passed through the Japanese islands living behind it victims and material damages. As often happens in things related to Japan, this concern comes from a lack of knowledge of the phenomenon itself as well as of the frequency it appears: although it too is a kind of fiery storm, the typhoon is not the same as a tornado and the damage is causes are usually much smaller in scale, especially in the cities. Furthermore and as regards to their frequency, typhoons are so common in Japan that most Japanese refer very casually to “typhoon season” (generally from August until November); every year 20 such storms    pass on average from various places all over the country (mostly from Okinawa but frequently much norther, up to north Honshu). Hence that in contrast to the Americans, the Japanese don’t name them –they just assign them numbers.  

Those who will live through a typhoon in Japan will be less amazed at the phenomenon itself and more at its coverage from the media; it might sound as an exaggeration but I’d say that it is the best proof that the Japanese have no sense of measure. Since the typhoon is particularly predictable in terms of course, development and intensity, as soon as its formation in the Pacific is recorded, weather reports embark on a campaign of detailed presentation of every single of its characteristics and as soon as it lands on Japanese soil, this information accompanied by dozens of live reports move to the main news programs superseding almost all other news. Images of helpless young reporters stood up in central spots of the cities where the typhoon passes from and drenched by the rain alternate with others of well-dressed women trying to keep their umbrellas open and concerned anchors from the studio bombard both with banalities; the picture is completed by data over and under the main screen with warnings and advisories about which train lines have stopped operating.

And after a while everything is over –because of the speed of the wind, a typhoon never stays at the same spot for more than four-five hours- trains resume operation, water dries up, people open the amado  (雨戸) the special storm shutters and with few exceptions, assessment of the damages shows that the worst thing that happened was the flooding of some very old houses; when there are exceptions (like the typhoon we had this last week) they are caused by indirect causes like landslides, especially in areas where building regulations have been violated or in plain human stupidity. A characteristic example was two years ago when a typhoon caused major damages and had 41 casualties in Izu Oshima, one of the small islands in the Pacific that belong to Tokyo for bureaucratic reasons: when asked by reporters why they didn’t evacuate their homes and move to higher ground as is common practice in these situations, the answer was “Because the authorities didn’t tell us to do so”; the fact that the people who replied this way were middle-aged and had an experience of, at moderate calculation, one thousand typhoons would make even the most sympathetic listener shake their head in disbelief. Perhaps in exaggerating warnings and advisories the media are right after all…

Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes on the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years. 

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