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Monday, August 24, 2015

Japan & The Typhoon

For all you newbies in Japan right now, chances are pretty good your BOE (Board of Education) or at least your supervisor/boss has taken you out to the local obon matsuri (festival celebrating the spirits of the ancestors) and, if you were like me forged an immediate reputation amongst the locals as a hebi (heavy) drinker of sake.

The weather has been hot and humid - hopefully, but all that will change soon enough with typhoon season.

Actually, it's been typhoon season for quite a while now, seeing as how it begins in May and ends in early October... it's just that late August and September are the worst and thus the most evident time for typhoons.

By the way, a "typhoon season" is a misnomer. Typhoons can form at any time during the year, but that May to October window is generally when they form.

Taifu is how the Japanese pronounce typhoons... which is what Asia and Oceania tend to call hurricanes.

The 2015 Pacific typhoon season is an ongoing annual cycle of tropical cyclone formation storms... forming in the western part of the Pacific Ocean.

Obviously, not all storms become taifu, as Japan tends to average around 11 of those hitting it every year.

The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) provides a name to a tropical cyclone system if it has sustained wind speed of at least 40 mph/65 km/h.

To confuse you, there is a second typhoon monitoring section known as the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration which will name names to a tropical cyclone that moves into or forms as a tropical depression within the area between 135°E and 115°E and between 5°N–25°N regardless if the JMA has already named it. .

Here's a list/ranking of the types of severe storms one can expect in Japan:
  • Tropical Depression: wind speed under 38 mph/61 km/h; 
  • Tropical Storm: wind speed  of 39 mph/63 km/h t - 54 mph/87 km/h; 
  • Severe Tropical Storm: wind speed of 55 mph/89 km/h - 72 mph/117 km/h; 
  • Typhoon: wind speed over 74 mph/119 km/h.
The JMA's Regional Specialized Meteorological Center in Tokyo sub-divides the typhoon category, and while you can bet that every media will pick up on it, it is NOT an official recognition. They are:
  • Strong Typhoon: wind speed of 74 mph/119 km/h - 97 mph/156 km/h; 
  • Very Strong Typhoon: wind speed of  98 mph/157 km/h - 120 mph/193 km/h; 
  • Violent Typhoon: win speed of 121 mph/194 km/h) or higher.
Westerners may be more familiar with the Beaufort Scale from 0 - 12+, with the 12+ including category 1-5 type hurricanes.

The typhoons more often than not hit the western part of Japan more often, but the east and north will also get hit with strong ones, too.

Unless you hear otherwise (such as you being on Okinawa or other parts that get smacked hard), the rest of Japan (main island and Hokkaido) will have business as usual.

That means you're going to get wet going to school to teach or whatever it is you think you are doing.

Like it or not, having a water-resistant rain coat and shoes/boots is a necessity. Forget fashion (this is working-class Japan, after all), and either take your work clothes in a plastic bag (in a knapsack), and travel to wherever you are going in clothes you don't mind getting wet.

An umbrella is a necessity. I never bought an umbrella in Japan, but there is always one available at every store in the country... and I don't men to purchase, I mean to use. It's a pay-it-forward kind of thing... you need one, you may have one, but leave it somewhere else where another may make use of it at a later date.

I had one given to me by a teacher after he saw me come into school half-drowned one Monday morning, and I kept it throughout my stay in Japan leaving it behind for the next sucker, I mean assistant English teacher who took my place.

I even got the hang of riding my bicycle with an umbrella popped open to protect me from the elements.... there's nothing like having a typhoon blow you down the road at over 100 kilometers an hour (62 mph)! Fun!

Of course... I did get hit by a car while riding my bike during a typhoon... but that was ONLY about the fact that some people who drive don;t known the basic rules of the road. Such as, even though you are a car and a bicycle beats you to a stop sign, you do not have the right of way. The bicycle does. Just be aware that many Japanese drivers re not aware of that rule. I was actually hit by cars twice in a one-weak/week period.

I'm fine. Probably.

Anyhow, aside from one really, really bad day when the storm is at its strongest, it's usually a three-day slug through a lot of precipitation. And then the next one will hit.

I do recall one bad time when a typhoon from the west and a typhoon from the south east converged on Japan... and then there was a fairly strong earthquake in central Japan.... no one was killed (I think), but it made one wonder what the hell Japan had done to piss off the gods.

These heavy storms have the added problem of mudslides... a real problem that hits the mountainous areas. The locals don't seem to give a crap about official warnings, but you should... find out from your BOE or bosses what you should do in such an emergency BEFORE the mudslides begin.

Keep in mind said problem can occur during and after a storm has passed through.

Swimming and or surfing... use your discretion, but doing either when a typhoon is approaching or has immediately passed can be fool-hardy.

During any big storm things get blown into the waters and with strong surf can get pushed along the waters and into some sportsperson's path.

Whatever the case, typhoons are violent storms and you should be prepared to experience a few during your stay in Japan.

Oh... and just so you are aware, twin typhoons are NOW on the way to Japan, expected to hit the southern islands of Okinawa and Osagawara Islands.

Typhoon Atsani was moving northwest at a speed of 260km east of Chichijima island, south of Tokyo with winds in the 144 km/h (89.5 mph)range.

The second typhoon, Goni, is slowly moving northward off northern Philippines, with wind gusts of up to 162 hm/h (107 mph) - but a maximum wind speed of 216 km/h (134.2 mph)was recorded.

Stay dry.

Andrew Joseph

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