July 21, 2011

House of the Moaning Sun

I live in an average borough smack-dab in the middle of Yokohama. These days my eyes pop open around 0500. There are two reasons for this. One is that my neighbors have embraced rural folks' tendency to retire to bed early and get a fresh start to the next day. And I do mean a REALLY fresh start. The second is there is no snooze button on my two Rising Daughters.
Since I graduated from high school, I’ve tended to be an early worm. I’m the hyperactive, annoyingly cheerful guy you encounter in the morning whose eyes you want to claw out when I whistle and lay out a hearty “good morning.” The karma has followed me here. The neighborhood we live in is a concentration of houses that are about ten years old. The residents are friendly and many have children just a few years older than Elena. It’s best described as a kid-friendly neighborhood with little vehicle traffic. That’s a major plus for us.
Nevertheless, the urban planning is less-than-a-plus. All these beautiful, modern homes have about four meters space between them. This is the reality of a densely packed city in the Tokyo-Yokohama region—I’m about to whine about that because it literally comes with the territory. One difference between Hiroshima and Yokohama is that here, houses and businesses have window shutters. What is unique about my neighborhood is that more than a few neighbors are brazen early risers. It’s very warm now, even overnight (averaging mid-70s F/ high-20s C) so the Rising Family sleeps with our windows open. This is to our peril, because around 0515 or so, the rackety clack clack clack of adjacent houses' shutters never fails to wake us up. So now I’m living the life of a farmer in metropolis.
Fait accompli: it’s time for me to rise from the futon. Problem is, Marina soon follows, and somewhat later, her slacker older sister emerges from her slumber and we therefore kickoff the day. One bonus of living here is that I can get US Armed Forces Network (the ever-chipper Eagle 810 AM) radio to jolt the morning forward with English news and music, an amenity I never bothered with in Hiroshima even though radio stations are widely available online.

The bookend to this morning protocol is the evening’s “closing of the shutters” ritual, which tends to happen after sundown. This is the signal for everyone to be quiet. It's another cue of conformity that enables this small part of the community -- and the 3.6 million souls that make up this city -- to live in harmony despite a densely packed urban space.

One of my co-workers told me this shutter phenomenon is a local habit which has been carried over from decades past--an architectural legacy with the added value of hedging against the rare case of burglary. There really is no pressing need for the shutters, in my opinion, but like a lot things we humans do, rituals become habits, and habits frame the day. That’s why I frequently see many sunrises of late. At least there are no cows to milk.

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