JIN-400 -- Whereto Fuyu Shogun?

J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:
Commentary on Japan's culture, economy and society
Issue No. 400
Wednesday January 31, 2007 TOKYO

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@@ VIEWPOINT: Whereto Fuyu Shogun?

Sunlight pours into the room as I tap out this newsletter.
I'm hot and slide open the picture window to let in air.
A tiny fly wheels in lazy circles above my desk.
It is January 30, midwinter in Tokyo.

Fuyu Shogun, the Winter Shogun, is a Japanese phrase for
the rigors of the coldest season. This year it seems the
shogun has beat an early retreat. Snow festivals are scaling
back for lack of snow; shops catering to people come to ice
fish remain shuttered along the margins of lakes not frozen
over; department stores report an increase in clothing sales
year-on-year on the strength of sales of spring fashions.

According to the Meteorological Agency, the temperature
exceeded 10 degrees Celsius on 21 days through January 29,
as opposed to 10 days in the same period last year.
More unseasonably warm weather is forecast for February.

Already the ume orchards give off a sweet fragrance and the
cucumber trees are in bud. Although it is still midwinter,
the buds were are bigger than an infant's fist, and seem
set to open as early as mid-February.

You might enjoy these warm winter days, intoxicated with
the ume's cloying scent, transfixed by snowcapped Fuji in
the distance. But I am sobered by the thought that climate
change is perhaps permanent, that perhaps Fuyu Shogun belongs
to history as much as the last Tokugawa shogun, Yoshinobu.
As many as 15 years ago, the world agreed to reduce the
threat of the apocalypse of global warming. Ten years ago
many countries adopted the Kyoto Protocol, the first step
toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Yet an increasing amount of heat-trapping gases are being
spewed into the atmosphere. Cold waves and heat waves,
floods and droughts alternately afflict regions of the
world, and typhoons and hurricanes wax in power and
deadliness. The United States denied global warming
from national interest, developing countries claimed
a right to economic growth, and China continued to consume
large amounts of fossil fuels.

Vice President Al Gore, the driving force in pulling
together an agreement on the final day of the bogged
down Kyoto talks, continues to circle the globe explaining
the danger of greenhouse gases. Coinciding with the positive
reviews of An Inconvenient Truth, Gore's documentary film
on climate change, wrong-headed world leaders have finally
awoken to the global interest.

Is it too late? Perhaps we are at the beginning of the end
of the meaning of unseasonable, a word that in a world of
topsy-turvy weather is doomed to obsolescence.

I catch and release in the sunlit garden the fly,
a tiny unseasonable wonder on a midwinter day.

---------- Burritt Sabin

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