Beat the Heat: Japan’s Coolest Summer Retreats
It seems like the rainy season only lasted a few days this time around. No sooner did we say goodbye to winter than the stifling heat and humidity of summer already seem to be upon us. Spring barely got a look in.
Summer in Japan however, is far different from the summers I became accustomed to growing up in Scotland. The highest temperature was usually around 30 degrees Celsius, with an average of about 24 or 25. Also Scotland doesn’t really have a rainy season as one might be used to in Japan or other subtropical climes. We can get rain pretty much anytime of the year, summer included. Indeed some would joke that if indeed Scotland had a rainy season, it would probably run from January until December!
In a city like Osaka however, it’s a completely different story. Once the summer sun takes hold here, you’re in for at least a couple of months of intense heat, humidity and long, sweaty train rides to and from work.
It almost makes one long for Scotland’s perpetually grey skies.
Almost, but not quite.
Although as someone from Scotland I would never dream of complaining about warm weather and clear blue skies, the fact remains that it can often be unpleasant when things get just a bit too hot.
Some respite is definitely a good idea.
Whilst staying at home with the air conditioner at full blast and a cold beer in your hand may seem like an easy option, it isn’t really a good idea to shut yourself away in this manner for the entirety of summer.
An escape is probably the best course of action, but where can one escape to?
There are some parts of Japan that can offer a bit of respite from the summer’s surging temperatures. Let’s look at a few of them.
Being Japan’s northernmost region, of course Hokkaido would seem like a natural choice of escape venue from the rising temperatures.
Indeed in summertime Hokkaido’s temperature is a lot closer to Switzerland than Singapore. Not only does Hokkaido benefit from this, but the cool breeze emanating from its northerly Arctic waters also provides a perfect counterbalance to the summer humidity.
Photo: Hideo on Flickr
In today’s increasingly urban world, and with smog, pollution and climate change serious global issues, cities are often hotbeds of heat and humidity not only because of geography, but also because of the various pollutants that cities seem to produce in far higher concentrations than would be the case in other areas.
For this reason predominantly rural, forested areas like Hokkaido provide the perfect tonic to this kind of predicament. The same could be argued for my second choice of venue:
“But, wait a minute,” I hear you gasp, “Isn’t Tottori even further south than Osaka, and therefore even hotter?” Whilst the answer is yes, it’s a little bit more complicated than that.
Being both a coastal and a somewhat hilly area, Tottori has the dual benefits of both a higher, and noticeably cooler, altitude as well as the chilling sea breeze that comes from the distinctly colder Sea of Japan, which contrasts with the warm water of the pacific which flow into Osaka and indeed all of Japan’s eastern coastline
Photo: Albert Hsieh on Flickr
Most of the major cities in Tottori are on higher ground and as such are at least a few degrees cooler than the surrounding prefectures. There’s also the added bonus of the beautiful sand dunes, which make for a fantastic place to walk around in the summer.
This is the perfect get out for those in Kansai looking to get away from the heat.
Photo: hiroshi ataka on Flickr
Situated just off to the east of Osaka, Wakayama is noticeably far more rural in its layout than neighboring Osaka and Kyoto prefectures. As in the case of Hokkaido, the more rural landscape leads to a drop in temperature. Wakayama is also rather mountainous with lots of peaks and coves, especially along the coastline. The area is also noted for its onsen. Now, of course one would think: “Who the hell wants to spend a stiflingly hot summer day in an onsen?” but many of these places have cold water baths too. It really depends on the place where you are staying.
Photo: Hideya HAMANO on Flickr
This region is famous for its skiing, so I guess it’s no surprise to anyone that it enjoys a very pleasant year round climate. Situated just a 90 minute or so train ride from Tokyo, Niigata is an excellent retreat for those looking for a weekend getaway from both the heat and the stress of daily life in Japan’s biggest city. As one would expect from a popular skiing region, Niigata also has some excellent hotels as well as plenty of opportunities for hiking and hill walking.
My final choice for a place to cool off in the Japanese summer time is one I can vouch for from personal experience, as it is where I went last summer for a short retreat. The gorgeous Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest inland body of water, is the centerpiece for this beautiful place. The lake is surrounded on all sides by a mix of relaxing hotels and restaurants leading into the local hub of Otsu City. Head a little around the coast line and you will encounter wonderful hiking trails, secluded beach areas and forests. Be careful however, whilst the nearby Lake Biwa does go some way to cooling things down a little, this is still a very hot place at the height of the summer season. If you do decide to indulge in a bit of hiking be sure to take ample supplies of water, sun cream and insect repellent with you, and plan your route accordingly in advance.
Photo: Stefan Rimaila on Flickr
Overall, the summer in Japan is sometimes unpleasant, but thankfully today’s air conditioning and cooling systems are excellent and extend to almost all public buildings.