The sunshower. A rare spectacle. But what does it mean?

According to my late grandmother from Ostend, the sunshower meant that there was a “kermesse in hell”. My mom – she told me and my brother countless times as kids – was convinced that “angels were peeing down on us.” I personally prefer Japanese mythology for an explanation of the phenomenon. When rain and sun coincide, it is called “the wedding of the foxes.” I heard about it for the first time at a Hokusai exposition in Paris, more than a year and a half after returning from the land of the rising sun.

Here’s the story. Before the era of emperor Hirohito, Japanese weddings weren’t held in specifically assigned places. Instead, the bride would walk to the groom’s house in the evening, accompanied by a large procession of villagers holding paper lanterns. You need to know that in Japanese mythology, foxes always play tricks on human beings. And while there are a great many variations on the saga depending on the prefecture, the simplest version states that foxes make the rain fall on purpose in order to prevent people from going into the mountains and seeing their wedding take place. Proof of this was found in the fact that when people would try to reach the paper lantern procession – the source of the atmospheric ghost lights during a sunshower – the procession would dissolve into thin air. Foxes love to trick people and will use magic to do so. Whether witnessing a a sunshower is a sign of good or bad luck, that again depends on the prefecture.

Related to the mythological fox is the tanuki, the fox-like shapeshifting raccoon dog. He is often depicted with a big belly, giant scrotum and a bottle of sake. The tanuki is a trickster. He can assume a human form, he haunts and possesses people. He directs his mesmerizing belly-drum music at unwitting travelers, hunters, woodsmen and monks. He can enlarge his scrotum as much as he wants. Really. Teams of tanuki go fishing together, using nothing but their scrota. They shelter from rain under it. They can blow it up and give it eyes to make it look like a scary monster. They use it for weight-lifting, as a knapsack for travel or as a window sign for their newest shop.

In some cases though, tanuki and their testicles are of invaluable importance to humans. Do you remember the failed conversation about earthquakes in the Bushwick loft? Well, Elizabeth from Delaware and Felipe from Colombia better had listened to the following story. According to Japanese popular belief, the cause of all earthquakes is the giant catfish Namazu. Namazu lives in the mud under the earth. When he shakes his head or tail, the earth above trembles and catastrophes take place. Therefor, Namazu is guarded by the god Kashima, who immobilizes the catfish by putting a heavy stone on his head and keeping it there. Now gods cannot always stay at the same place – they have business to attend to and divine meetings to assist. So one day, Kashima didn’t have a choice but to leave, meaning Namazu the catfish would have all the place and time to wiggle at will – killing thousands, if not hundreds of thousands above ground. For this special occasion, the flying raccoon-dog tanuki came to the rescue. Just after Kashima left for his meeting, he blew up his scrotum to an enormous size and laid it on top of the fish’s head. The people of Japan were saved.

In that sky over the planes, woods and volcanoes, roamed by raccoon-dogs for centuries, I too made my entry. In an iron bird. Knowing close to nothing at all.

To be continued…

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