By Avi Landau
Water does not only sustain life- it cools, cleanses, soothes, heals and refreshes (among other things!). In Japan, water has also long been important for spiritual and ritual purification ( you can see the water basins at which one should cleanse one`s hands and mouth at before approaching a Shinto Shrine).
On summer evenings ( and sometimes mornings, as well) you might be lucky enough to see a Japanese shopkeeper splash water out onto the road or sidewalk in front his/her establishment. You might also see the same thing done in front of private homes or at shrines or temples.
Besides the fact that this could help keep the dust down and that the mere sight of water can help us feel cooler, this splashing is also carried out as a ritual act of purification similar to the laying of little salt piles (MORIJIO) at entranceways (which I have written about before).
When done at homes, this water tossing ( which in Japanese can be called either MIZU UCHI or MIZU MAKI) can almost be seen as a kind of prayer for cooler temperatures . For whatever it is worth, the little splash must also help out the few plants and flowers lucky to by touched by it.
The other day in Hojo, I noticed a shopkeepers a woman splashing a big ladle of water in front of the gate to her house. . I talked to her about what she was doing and I was interested to hear how it was the fact that the sun was starting to go down that signalled that it was time to start UCHI MIZU. The idea is to help the cool down process. In the heat of the day, throwing water would only make things steamier, she explained.
(this also reminded me of how in the 19th century when the first steam engines started to run in Japan, villagers would kindly toss buckets of water onto what they considered to be the poor overheated steel beasts)
At the Bon Odori event held nearby the next day, I noticed the shopkeepers and those helping run the festivities regularly tossing water in front of the shops and the resting areas- as an invitation to a cool and PURIFIED zone.
Sprinkling water is now commonly used in Japan to keep the kids cool, and anyone who is staying in Tsukuba through August with small children should probably take advantage (at least once) of these free play fountains (reminding me of the the fire hydrants which are opened in some parts of New York City in the summer).
Let me tell you of two good places that I know of for the tots to cool off ( and have lots of fun, as well)-
one at the Lala Garden Shopping Center, at which water is occassionally shot up into the air.
and the other, much more recommended at the southern end of the Matsushiro Park, where all day, cool , clean water is let to flow and sprinkle- much to the delight of all the children who go there.
Beware , however, that for most of the day this area is exposed to direct sunshine. So while your kids might be having the the times of their lives, their mom or dad might have their life threatened by heatstroke! Of course, I am exaggerating, but if you do go to the KUMA-CHAN pool, as it is called, do come prepared- with sunscreen, drinks, hat, etc.
And as you are watching your kids vigilantly, making sure they don`t run or slip or fight, you might like me start wishing that you didn`t have to be acting like an adult at that moment, and that you too could get yourself all wet and cooled off . Then like the kids we would be shouting with thrilled glee (instead of grumbling with the impatience of the overheated).
I have written about the little salt piles found at the entrances to certain homes, restaurants etc, here: