by Robert J. Collins

I’m sure you’ve wondered why it’s hotter than hell during these lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. (Oops, my keyboard just melted. I’ll finish this with chalk and a blackboard.)

Notwithstanding the fact that much of Japan is in the same latitude as North Africa (where people wear sandals, flowing gowns and refuse to ride the Hibiya Line), the summer expe­rience here is doubly blessed with humidity high enough to wilt chalk.

Was it always thus? As with many, many things in this coun­try, it was always thus. (“It’s the way we’ve always done things.”)

But the battle of the gods— the mighty Kao in charge of yel­low and red flames from beneath the Earth, and the mighty Sumi in charge of blue skin and wind-borne ice—had their famous confrontation at Fuji-san’s rice paddy (long before it was a mountain). It wasn’t until THEN people learned to live with the weather as it is now. And that was only 31.6 million years ago. Things haven’t always been done the same way around here.

(The battle of the gods Kao and Sumi was, as these things go, rather prosaic. They each had designs on controlling the weath­er in their own fashion on a year-round basis. The battle went to Kao on a close call. His sword of fire melted Sumi’s sword of ice, but with all the water splashing around the fire on his sword kept going out. He at least was left with a charred stick with which he repeatedly hit Sumi over the head. They compromised— something else going on for a long time around here—and Sumi got Hokkaido. Kao got to make it as hot as possible, but only for half a year.)

That settled, other things began going on in the back­ground. The princess Sachiko has long been admired as a trendsetter. Her father, the god Tsunami, went off beyond the horizon to capture “water peo­ple” before they could land in Japan and pollute everyone with “international” nonsense. He never returned, at least as far as people know, and Sachiko was left an orphan. (Her mother? Don’t ask. With gods, child bearers were infrequently mentioned. Or known.)

The princess Sachiko had befriended Ming, a young prince form “the big land to the west.” Ming was always showing up with things from home for Sachiko—things like long, wrap­around dresses tied in the middle with broad silken belts, little cups and saucers of exquisite design and construction which held flu­ids much better than Japanese mud cups, and, can you believe it, long pointy sticks designed to pick up food from those little cups and saucers instead of gob­bling things by the fistful.

“This is really neat,” said Sachiko, trying on her new san­dals of straw. She’d never wear tree bark again.

“I have many more neat things which I’ll bring you,” said Ming. “Bur first, let me show you something REALLY neat.”

Alas, Ming left the next morning and never returned. He had faced his ultimate battle in his homeland it was rumored, and had apparently lost. We do know in this saga who the moth­er was. Eight (or nine) months later, it was Sachiko. And her children, grandchildren, great­grandchildren and their descen­dants today swarm as if driven by supernatural forces (for, indeed, they are) into the lanes and by­ways of Harajuku to buy the lat­est different thing.

“Why are you here?” one asks a young shopper.

“I (giggle) don’t know,” says the shopper, eyes rolling around in her head. “To get something maybe.”

Of course. “To get some­thing maybe.” And we who know the full story know why. She can’t help it. It was dictated by her direct ancestors. The gods.

The final example today has to do with karaoke and the ten­dency of otherwise decent citizens—people you’d be proud to have as business partners or in­laws—to stand up in front of a microphone and … you know what. (“I can imagine,” said a first-time foreign businessman, “a person having a bowel move­ment in public with more dignity that that. At least it wouldn’t be amplified.”)

Well, there’s a perfectly good explanation of the karaoke phe­nomenon in the well-known tale of the two Gifu gods and the hilarious fact that unknown to each other, they were both deaf. Skipping down the road one day, the god of…

Wait a minute… It’s so hot, not only is the chalk really wilt­ing, the paint on the blackboard is beginning to run. I’ll have to send this in and hope the Week­ender fax machine can handle it.