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Sunday, 27 June, 1999, 16:31 GMT 17:31 UK
Sounds to keep you cool
Zen park
Zen park: A welcome escape from the fierce summer heat
Japanese summers can be fiercely hot and steamy. Temperatures rise to the high 30s and humidity is one hundred per cent. It's a climate which requires more than air conditioning to keep the population cool. And, as Juliet Hindell reports, cooling sounds play a key role.

I know that summer is on the way in Japan when the windbells start tinkling.

The sounds of summer inspire a deep sentimentality among the Japanese and many of these seasonal delights have their own words just to describe their sound effects.

Cold and creepy

Chirin chirin go the windbells made of bronze or glass and hung in windows or on balconies across the country.

Woe betide anyone who leaves their windbell up all year round, Japanese people will tell you it sounds cold and creepy in winter.

But in summer the light sound is meant to alert you to even the slightest breeze and cool your sweating brow.

As the temperature rises, the cicadas, huge chirping insects that live underground for four years, emerge for a brief bout of mating.

Sometimes in the countryside, their nasal clattering buzz is so loud you can¿t hear your companion speak.

garden
In the countryside, the nasel, clattering buzz of cicadas is deafening

Hundreds of cicadas live in the park next to my home, they wake with the sun and make alarm clocks unnecessary. Mee min min they go in Japanese and the sound inspires people to sighs of summer melancholy, everyone knowing that the brief season of indolent days outside or the dream of them will soon be over.

Summer customs seem to be more deeply cherished and more moving to many Japanese people than other seasonal events.

Even if you never hang up windbell, or avoid insects, their sounds evoke a nostalgia for what is probably a mythical lost era when time was plentiful, gardens were big and worrying simply didn't happen.

Elixir of eternal life

Some people gush in an almost cloyingly romantic way about the signs of summer be it the taste of cold noodles or the chemical smell of the incense used to keep mosquitoes at bay.

"It's so damn hot," explained a friend of mine. "We have to have a kind of performance to help us through."

Cold beer assumes the status of an elixir of eternal life in summer. Goku goku is the sound of cold beers drunk with huge relishing gulps and is a vital feature of television commercials in summer.

city
Ghost stories help while away the hot summer nights in the city
Fireworks, believed in the olden days to break the heat of summer nights, command a complicated cacophony of sound words: Shuru shuru shuru doon patchi patchi

Are you visualising the glittering sparkles bursting in the night sky?

Sudden rain falls with a cooling zaa zaaa and a thunderstorm passes over head with goro goro goro pika as the lightening flashes.

Paper fans flap with a breezy bata bata, wooden clogs people wear with cool festival kimonos go kara koro kara koro as their walk quickly down the street, karan koron if the are are sauntering.

Ghosts without feet

Ghosts stories are told to bring on chilling goose bumps, a feeling described by the sound zoku zoku. Ghosts who never have feet in Japan arrive with a hyuu doro doro.

None of these sounds would be right out of season, out of the steamy months. Japanese friends say these sounds make them feel uncomfortable.

One woman who has lived in London said fireworks in winter were a weird out of season and almost out of body experience.

Just as if the men who sell baked sweet potatoes from a van all winter long advertising their wares with a mournful song were to turn up in the height of summer on the streets of Tokyo.

They just wouldn't sound right.

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