Monday, June 23, 2008

Plan Bs

Fukui is a rather soggy place. The autumn months found me wishing that I could somehow morph into an amphibian to better cope with what seemed like constant rainfall, and the winter found me digging my tiny car out of large-even-to-a-Chicago-gal snowdrifts that had literally accumulated overnight. So, the past few weeks of springtime sunshine and blue skies have been a welcome respite from the otherwise constantly-crappy weather in our random little corner of Japan.

Unfortunately, I’ve come to learn that this lovely weather was really just a tease.

This weekend, Fukui entered 梅雨(tsuyu), the rainy season, a Japan-wide phenomenon that runs from mid-June through July. Tsuyu translates to "plum rain" because it coincides with plum season (and ume-shu, plum wine, season -- yatta!!). But tsuyu should also translate to "dreary, sh*tty weather everyday."

When tsuyu hits an already-rainy place like Fukui (I guess my prefecture could be called the Seattle of Japan, minus the Space Needle), the results are, well, soggy. For example, 2004’s tsuyu once brought a legendary 11 inches of rain in six hours. Of course I realize that this will likely evoke little sympathy from my fellow Midwesterners who likely spent the weekend filling sandbags along the currently flood-ravaged Mississippi (keep fighting the good fight, y’all!), but that’s a heck of a lot of rain, by any standard.

So, what’s an outdoor-loving, sunshine-worshipping, soon-to-be-leaving-Japan-and-trying-to-pack-everything-in-one-last-time kinda gal to do during tsuyu?

Make lots of Plan Bs.

Which is exactly what I did this weekend after plans for a glorious two days of camping, cycling and otherwise worshipping the great outdoors were altered due to grey skies and lots o’ precipitation.

I’d been looking forward to one last round of camping and inebriated cliff diving at Fukui’s infamous Ono Watering Hole on Friday night. I was optimistic at first: I woke up on Friday morning to blue skies, chirping birds and butterflies, but as the day progressed, the storm clouds began rolling in. All I could do was laugh as tsuyu officially hit just as I was walking out the door at the end of the school day.

Plan B? We organized a little BBQ on a fellow JET’s front porch. The BBQ was more like a mini UN meeting, complete with a couple of Americans, two Japanese artists and a pair of just-passing-through backpackers from Spain. The trilingual conversation was lovely, as were the red wine and butter-soaked, charcoal-slow-cooked mushrooms and corn.

Saturday’s pre-rain plan was to cycle around the Five Lakes of Mikata, an aptly-named series of, uh, five lakes down in the funky “Dirty South” Reinan region of the prefecture. Some of the lakes are salt water, and some are fresh water, and they all differ in depth, so they’re supposed to be gorgeous, all different colors, in fair weather.

Plan B? We road-tripped down to the Reinan in my little car, stopping along the two-lane highway to take in views along the dramatic, rugged Sea of Japan coast. The grey skies actually made the greens of the moss-covered rocks -- and reds of the kitschy, rusted-out crab-shaped signs from long-abandoned seafood restaurants -- all the more vibrant.

We still made it to the lakes, and the rain even held off long enough for us to squeeze in a quick, 20-kilometer lakeside loop on some ancient mama chari bikes that we rented from the train station. We cycled through groves of plum trees, and along roads dotted with little stands staffed by hunched-over octogenarians hawking the corresponding fruit (it's pretty -- see the picture above). Rain soaked but happy, we later perused squid boats parked in the harbor in the little fishing port of Obama (yes, as in Barack), and had an amazing, multi-course dinner at an otherwise-empty seaside restaurant with no menu. All in all, an amazing weekend.

So, as the cliché goes, when life hand you lemons, make lemonade.

When life hands you plums, make ume-shu.

And when life hands you tsuyu, make a Plan B.

1 comment:

Dahlia said...

I am really going to miss your blogs. Some of my friends also read it (hope you don't mind) and they love it. Maybe you should write a book?! Enjoy your last days there!