Hot enough for ya!? Despite having enjoyed an extremely mild spring, summer in Japan has kicked off with the ferocity of a right-wing tiger with a bad case of hemorrhoids and a stinging mouth ulcer. If you’re from more tropical climes and currently living in Japan you’re likely wondering why everyone keeps moaning “atsuiiiii” (“It’s hoooot!”) and dabbing their faces with handkerchiefs like politicians struggling to explain cross-dressing photos published online. For the rest of us, though, summer is a sweaty nightmare than can not so much be beaten as endured.
Thankfully, we’re here today to help you out with 10 tips for getting through summer without melting into a sad little puddle. Read on, my sweaty friends.
Whether this is your first summer in Japan or you’re planning on visiting soon (perhaps you’re one the of the thousands of people about to arrive in the country on the JET Programme?), you’ll need the knowledge to beat the heat. Of course, much of this can be applied to summer in a number of other countries, but there are a number of Japan-specific summer survival tips that we think you ought to know.
- 1. The ice is right
A plastic water bottle filled three-quarters full and then put in the freezer for a couple of hours makes a great little portable pick-me-up. Rub it on your face and neck to freshen up, or sip at the slowly melting ice water to keep your thirst at bay. Be careful though, “Drinking too much freezing water at once in the plus 30℃ weather creates a sudden change in temperature inside your body that can do quite a number on your digestive tract,” warns our very own seasoned survivor Steven Le Blanc, who makes a frozen PET bottle his pal every summer. “Sip it, but don’t glug the stuff down all day long!” Wise words, sir.
2. Eco-friendly air-con
Whether it’s for the sake of the planet, your health or your wallet, using the air conditioning in your apartment isn’t always the best idea. With earthquakes aplenty, Japanese homes are typically built using very light materials, and double or triple-glazed windows are rare. While this may help with air circulation, it also means that home insulation is never especially good, and your lovely, air-con cooled room won’t stay that way for long. As a result, your conditioner has to work extra hard to keep the room comfortable, and that means bigger electricity bills and more ambient noise. Frequently moving between hot and cool environments can also play havoc with your respiratory system and can cause your eyes, nose and throat to dry out, leading to irritation and infection, so use that thing in moderation and set the thermostat to a comfortable–but not cold–setting.
But what about those hot and humid nights when you just can’t get to sleep? Wouldn’t life sans-AC be unbearable!? Well once again our chilled PET bottle pal is here to help!
Place a two-litre water bottle (again, two-thirds full) in the freezer and let that bad boy ice up. Next, stand the bottle (preferably in a large bowl or even a baking tray so that condensation won’t spill all over the floor) directly in front of your room fan. Believe it or not, the air blown by the fan will be chilled by what is essentially a large chunk of ice standing before it, helping bring the room temperature down. It’s quiet, it’s efficient and it won’t dry you out like air conditioning can.
- 3. Wipe, wipe, baby!
Regular readers will no doubt have noticed our fondness for body wipes, or ‘body sheets’ as they’re often known here in Japan. Basically just moist, deodorising tissues, these things are available in all manner of flavours; some with antibacterial agents; some adding a layer of drying powder to the body; others producing a refreshing ‘tingling’ sensation; the list is endless.
You’ll be needing at least two packs at any one time. Keep one in your bag to use when out and about, and keep the other at home in the fridge. The latter might sound like an odd place to keep cosmetics, but there really are few things better than walking through the door a sweaty mess and having a chilled, cleansing wipe waiting for you. Just be sure to close the pack properly or your cucumbers will start to taste a bit funky! Oh, and a word of warning for the guys: if you’re the sensitive sort, try to avoid rubbing any ‘ice type’ body sheets anywhere near your nipples or other delicate areas while freshening up in the restroom at work — those things can be a little too tingle inducing sometimes…
- 4. The classic cooldown
Photo: Nanto City
Have you ever soon those old ladies in the street or monks in temple gardens sprinkling water on the ground during summer? They’re not just doing it to wash away the tom-cat spray! Uchimizu, to give its official name, has been practiced for hundreds of years in Japan and, as well as keeping dust down on dry days, has been proven to lower the temperature in the street by a couple of degrees. Although uchimizu is traditionally carried out by temple staff and people wearing yukata summer robes at events like summer festivals, it’s perfectly okay for anyone to do this around their home, and your neighbours will love you for it. Plus, it’s kind of fun!
- 5. Take those freebies!
Pocket tissues are a popular and effective form of advertising here in Japan, with small packs often handed out in front of stations and department stores, each containing a small advert or sometimes even a discount coupon. In summer, though, you’ll often see staff handing out small hand fans made out of plastic or paper instead. Sure, you’ll end up walking around with an advert in your hand all day, but having one of these things to provide a gentle breeze is a lifesaver when you’re crammed in a hot train or stuck waiting for the lights to change in the midday sun. Just be careful not to gather too many of the things between now and the end of September!
- 6. Get out of the house!
Why sit at home with your air conditioner on when someone else can pay the power bill? Becoming more and more popular each year, ‘cool share’ in the summer and ‘warm share‘ in the winter are locally-run schemes that encourage people to gather in communal areas like public libraries, social centres, cafes and even museums, often offering discounts during the hottest and coldest times of year. As well as saving you money, getting out of the house also gives you a chance to meet other people, so switch off your own AC and spend as much time as possible in public areas where you can study, read or work. Your taxes fund these places, so you might as well make the most of them!
- 7. Get some summer ‘room wear’
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Traditionally, Japanese bathe at night, and not necessarily just before going to bed either. Come home, strip off, wash up, have dinner and then you’re free to sprawl out on the tatami with a cold beer.
But what to wear on these hot, sticky nights? Cotton T-shirts are just going to suck the sweat up, and going shirtless is just asking for those pesky mosquitos (don’t worry, we’re coming to them!) to come and nibble on you. Relax Japanese style this summer with some dedicated ru-mu uea (room wear), which you can pick up at most department stories or even good old Gap and Uniqlo. It may not look especially stylish, but if you get into the habit of bathing at night (and might we suggest a quick rinse in the morning?) and slipping into them when you’re sure you’ll be staying at home for a while no one will ever have to see your unusual threads. Even better, grab a traditional ‘jinbei‘ summer jacket and shorts (above), which are usually made of breathable hemp, to stay extra cool when relaxing at home.
- 8. Chemical warfare
Photo: Gururin House
‘Ka‘, the wonderfully short Japanese word for mosquito, is something that you’ll hear a lot this time of year. Nature’s very own ninja vampires, they sneak in while you’re sleeping and feast on your blood. We appreciate that the females have to do this in order to produce eggs, and we hate to stand in the way of the miracle of life and all that business, but when mosquitos buzz next to your ear at 3 a.m. but vanish into thin air the second the bedroom light is switched on and leave you with red, itchy lumps the next day, they’re a real pain in, well, wherever they bite you. We’ve already shared a great tip for dealing with the swelling of a mosquito bite, but it’s far better to stop them getting at you in the first place.
Mosquito repellants are available in all shapes and sizes in Japan, with plug-in vaporizers and old-school ‘katorisenko‘ coils that burn slowly (and create quite the smell, so are best used outdoors!), but brands like Mushi Konaazu (above) which can be hung in a window or next to a doorway work wonders keeping the little blighters away, sometimes for up to two months at a time. Hang a couple of these in strategic locations around your apartment and you’ll spend far fewer nights wandering around in your underpants hunting for near-invisible flying beasts with a rolled-up magazine.
- 9. The sound of summer
Not just for hippies, wind chimes–or fuurin in Japanese–are traditionally hung up during the summer months. Placed in the window rather than out on a porch or in a back yard, these tiny little bells chime softly whenever a slight breeze enters the room, having an incredible soothing effect. Perhaps it’s just a case of classical conditioning, but after a few days of feeling a gentle breeze every time that tiny bell rings, the mere sound begins to help us feel cooler. What better way to spend a lazy summer’s day than sprawling out in your jinbei reading comics while the breeze provides a subtle soundtrack?
10. Know your ice cream!
We may have put this one in at number 10, but don’t for a second underestimate the importance of ice cream! More than just a sweet treat, ice cream is the perfect snack to help you cool down in summer, but with so many flavours and brands out there to choose from it might take a while before you find a winner. Sure, there are richer, more sophisticated ice creams out there, but we’re going to cut to the chase right away and say that GariGari-kun popsicles/ice lollies/ice candy/whatever you want to call them are not only genuine Japanese classics, but they’re perfect for surviving the long summer stretch.
Retailing for around 60 yen (US$0.60) each, they won’t break the bank, but they’re seriously tasty and great for quenching your thirst. As well as being available in soda and pear flavours all year round, there are even limited edition varieties to try, including the hard-to-find but surprisingly tasty corn soup flavour. Even better, if you find the 当たり (atari) message written on your popsicle stick, you get another one free! We love you, GariGari-kun!
We’ll be back with even more tips to beat the heat soon. Stay strong, Rocketeers! It’s a long and sticky road ahead!
Title image via Tatsumi83 All other images by RocketNews24