Monday, December 26, 2005

a plea from the sane

There is an age-old custom/courtesy in Japan that shopkeepers and homeowners clean their sidewalks by rinsing them with water. In traditional Gion they use a bucket and ladle to splash the street, but most people these days just use a hose. While this tradition is helpful in keeping the town spic n’ span in the summer, there is something incredibly foolish about how it is carried out in the winter.

Let me present this scene. Please imagine yourself as an average Japanese person.

It had snowed earlier in the day, but now as the midday sun hits the streets the snow is becoming heavy with moisture and packed down by pedestrians. You decide you had better go out and clear it before someone hurts themselves. So, as usual, you put on your rubber boots, unravel your hose, and proceed to melt the offending area with water only slightly warmer than the snow itself. It takes you longer than you had imagined, but your sidewalk is now nice and shiny clean. You go to sleep that night secure in the thought that you have done your civic duty.

The temperature drops below freezing during the night. When you wake up and step outside you almost knock yourself unconscious on your own black ice skating rink. For while it was warm enough the day before to cause the snowmen to shrink, it wasn’t sunny enough to evaporate the pools of water on your shiny sidewalk. And so you learn that a simple custom plus freezing temperatures has the possibility of becoming a dangerous situation.

At least, that is what I hope these people realize before I fall victim to a grandma with a hose and a vengeance for cleaning her neighborhood streets.

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