Back to Contents of Issue: September 2004

by Kevin Cooney

ATSUI, DESU NE? Atsui, naa. Atsui, yo! Atsuuuu! Achi. Atsuiii! Or, in English: "It's hot."

You know. I know. We all know. The word is out. So since it's always a long summer of hot days here in Japan: Stop saying it!

Most astonishing is the astonishment with which "atsui" is uttered by people as they exit their air-conditioned offices and spill out onto the hot streets of Tokyo. When did these people enter their offices? January? Expect a temperature differential.

The "atsui" season, however, constitutes only half of the Japanese year. The other half is the "samui" season.

Spring and autumn are really just the indecisive seasons. The trick is deciding if it's a "samui" day or an "atsui" day (there is no "in between" day). Once determined, it must be announced to the world. Pray that your meteorological sense doesn't conflict with a friend or, worse yet, superior from your office. (A similar situation exists in ramen appraisal and the word "oishii" -- or "delicious.")

As summer's mercury rises, so rises the value of certain prime Tokyo real estate. No, not rooftop gardens or flattop tar parties decorated with air-conditioning vents and plastic bamboo. Rather, it's the highly valued end seat on the train.

What is it about that bottom-sized plot of public space that makes innocent old ladies stiff-arm a gauntlet of would-be sitters? The end of a row of seats on a Japanese commuter train, like money, youth and Katori Shingo, is universally valued in Japan.

Strap-hangers standing before the end seat will warily eye one another, hoping to get a jump on others if the passenger gets up. They must also beat out the person in the adjacent seat, who may slide over. They must even beware those seated diagonally opposite, who may dart across the car.

We each have our reasons to want to sit in the end seat. Some seek sleep, others privacy and my mother the safety of being near the door. I have my own reason: The seat allows only one person next to me.

You see, I attract fat and sweaty businessmen like an "oishii" ramen shop. They stink. Invariably (despite the statistical odds) they are left-handed, and keep a steady flow of pungent "tonkotsu" tinged air coming my way with a frantically fanning fan in that sweaty left hand.

Put it this way: It is not a divine wind. And with another businessman seated to my right, it's a downright typhoon of stink.

For those who don't know, let me explain. The fan is not making you cooler. It is making you sweat. The only value of a fan is for wrist aerobics, fashion or as a prop for a Rakugo comedian. As you presumably engage in none of these, please holster the fan.

Instead, imagine yourself on a rooftop garden. Still sweating? Ah, summer. Atsui, ne?@

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