On my way to work in Umeda last Friday, six fairly elderly men got on the train at Namba: these old fellows might have been school alumni or former co-workers (reunions are more frequent here than in western countries – one of my students,who’s pushing 70, meets his friends from junior high every summer). One man, in a beret and large glasses, was periodically counting the group members, like the head boy on a field trip to the zoo. They were attired in the dress-casual of a bygone age. The smell of mothballs was overwhelming. Nobody seemed to notice, though, besides me.
In what other country does the smell of mothballs herald the changing of the seasons? It’s a remnant of the Japanese tradition of koromogae (衣替え), the changing over of the wardrobe (how many other languages have a word for it?). It began when everyone changed over from winter to summer kimonos, then back again, in a given region. The seasons tend to change rather suddenly here, so someone who waits too long will either be bathed in sweat or freezing in very short order. Some years ago, I was riding the Midosuji Line one morning and wondering why it seemed so dark. It finally dawned on me that all the salarymen had changed – en masse – over to their black or dark gray winter suits. There was a day in October mutually agreed upon by all the big companies, and that was that. Supposing we’d been in the middle of a heat wave, it wouldn’t have mattered (likewise, sometime in November, regardless of the temperature, the heat will be turned on everywhere).
I mention all this because I’m in the midst of my own koromogae. I hope I finish soon, because there’s presently no room to (humanely) swing a cat in here.