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Autumn, cool (weather) Japan

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It is getting colder here as the autumn season fully sets in. Despite the disasters recorded this and last month, people are generally anticipating the red autumn season.

I heard a conversation between colleagues of the same department earlier this week regarding the forecast of autumn foliage (fall leaves) being visible in different parts of Japan. The prefecture I currently stay in is expected to observe the autumn foliage between the end of November and early of December. Due to its vicinity to Tokyo (which don’t have correlation, by the way), people here observe the autumn foliage at a later period of time.

One of the colleague, feeling dissatisfied, said, “Why do we (people in Chiba prefecture) always became the last ones to observe these things?”. Chiba prefecture and Tokyo metropolitan observed the autumn foliage at a later stage, as well as snowfall. However, western parts of Tokyo which are near to the mountains do observe earlier autumn foliage, such as Mount Takao in Tokyo, which is expected to be observable at mid-November.

I am definitely looking forward (and delighted!) to see the colorful red season… and its accompanying chilly weather.

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Hotchkiss and stapler

One morning, I overheard a colleague’s conversation over the phone about someone wanting a “hotchkiss” being delivered to an event’s venue.

“Hotchkiss”, I paused and gave a brief thought about its meaning.

Stapler.

A quick search on the Internet revealed that “Hotchkiss” not only is common to the Japanese, it is also attributed to Benjamin B. Hotchkiss for machine gun, a weapon that was widely used during the First World War. It was also popularized, thanks to the company name “E.H Hotchkiss”.

The word “stapler” might be foreign to the locals, so mentioning its name might draw confusion. I was reminded of the last trip with my friend few years ago when I wanted to buy a medicine to overcome a mild fever at a local drug store in Tokyo station. I asked the salesperson if they sell Panadol. Unsurprisingly, the salesperson didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. I then followed up by asking if they sell paracetamol.

Disappointingly, they said they didn’t sell the product that I mentioned. Armed with Google search, I finally found what I want.

It turned out that the Japanese are more comfortable and familiar with the term ibuprofen. Hence, brands like Bufferin and Tylenol are more prominent in the local drugstores (and they work like Panadol too). However, I am a bit puzzled to Panadol’s unavailability here, while it is widely available in Taiwan (very helpful whenever I visit there!). I also noted that Watsons is not available in Japan, but it has branches everywhere in the neighboring Taiwan. Hmm.

In the end, I learned something new — something that is common back in the home country isn’t always that common in another country.

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The tunes of the dusk

Everyday, a tune lasted for 1 minute is played through a huge speaker set outside the company building. Even though the windows were tightly shut and people were talking, a certain broadcast still can be heard faintly (it can be heard louder when it is autumn or winter — the windows were opened to allow cool air to flow in).

The first tune, an instrumental version of Yuuyake koyake 「夕焼け小焼け」 (“Sunset”, a Japanese kids song, shown below), is played at 4:45 p.m.. A broadcast is also included by the local municipal council while the tune is being broadcast, announcing that it is almost 5 p.m., and urging kids to go back home as well as asking the locals to look over the kids as they went home.

Yuuyake koyake (“Sunset”)

I also noticed that the time the tune played changes over season. As night fell earlier in the autumn and winter, the Yuuyake koyake tune is played at 4:30 p.m. during autumn , and 4:15 p.m. during winter.

Whenever the tune is being played, it is also an indication that it’s almost time to go home (not quite so in the winter). I felt relaxed and became slightly energetic as I continue pounding the keyboard throughout the afternoon. When the need for overtime work arose, it essentially became my motivation for the dusk.

Gaijinpot blogged that Yuuyake koyake is a tune being broadcast everyday through the speaker systems being set up. The purpose of the speaker systems is to convey disaster information to the residents, but when there is no disaster (thankfully), the relaxed tune will be played instead.

This system is widely applied across country, and the period of the tune being broadcast varies between region, typically between 4 p.m. to 6 p.m..

At 5 p.m., another tune unique to the region where I worked at, Yuube hoshi 「夕べ星」 (“Evening stars”, shown below) played. The atmosphere and the tune in its entirety was very relaxing; as if the stars in the sky can be brightly seen. Nevertheless, it marked the last 20 minutes before calling it a day. Update: noteworthy – this tune only plays at Wednesday.

Yuube hoshi (“Evening star”)

At days other than Wednesday, the Narashino city song (orgel version) is played instead in the 5 p.m. slot (shown below). Nevertheless, its unique variation also appealed me.

The Narashino city song in orgel version

In the place where I stay, the tune played at 5 p.m., titled No bara 「野ばら」(“Wild rose”, shown below). I found it amusing that different places and regions have their own variation, like the train jingles.

No bara (“Wild rose”)

When these tunes were broadcast in the weekends, it signified that the day is almost over. Depending on the day and context, either I happily pack up for the day, or quietly prepare for the new day ahead.