In Japan, the gods of wind and rain are known as Fuhaku and Ushi, respectively. Around the country, there are said to be more than 2,000 names for various kinds of wind, and just about as many for rain.
For example, torrential, pounding rain can be called "naguri-ame," "gozuburi," "zaburi" and "shibakure-ame."
According to "Ame no Namae" (Names of rain) published by Shogakukan Inc., "shibakure" means planks from various kinds of small trees used for making rafts. The expression "shibakure-ame," which translates as "shibakure rain," is said to come from the image of a raft floating on a rain-swollen river.
All of these rain words were likely born from experiences and conditions unique to their regions.
But the ferocity of the drenching rains that fell recently in Kumamoto and Oita prefectures surpassed anyone's experience. The Japan Meteorological Agency used the phrase "downpours of an intensity never experienced before" in their warnings to local residents. This was the first time the phrase was used since the agency adopted it last month on a trial basis. And true to the agency's warning, the rainfall totaled an unbelievable 108 millimeters in an hour.
A really heavy downpour is often described in Japan as "like an overturned bucket," and rainfall of more than 30 millimeters in one hour falls under this category. When rainfall exceeds 50 millimeters in an hour, it resembles a near whiteout, and rainfall of 80 millimeters is said to be a frightening experience.
I cannot begin to imagine what rainfall of 108 millimeters must feel like.
Several thousand millimeters of rain fall on Earth's surface every year, but the heavens are fickle. The skies bring floods to some parts of the world and drought to others.
Atsushi Kurashima, a meteorologist and essayist, once referred to clouds as "taps in the sky," but sadly, we humans are unable to open or shut those taps.
According to the meteorological agency, the taps are still dripping over Kyushu, and continued vigilance is called for.
The terms "Ara-zuyu" (rough rainy season) and "abare-zuyu" (violent rainy season) suggest that our ancestors must have had unhappy experiences during the rainy season.
Today, too, in our "country of water" on this "planet of water,” we must not let our guard down until the rainy season is over.
--The Asahi Shimbun, July 14
Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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