Keeping a Cool Head: Beat the Japanese Summer
Coming from a country as cold and often miserable as Scotland, I am not one of these people who typically complains about the hot weather. Whilst some of my Japanese and foreign friends wilt in the seemingly endless heat, berated the oppressive temperatures and stifling humidity, I always resist such temptations to follow suit. After all, from my own perspective, if the only thing you have in your daily life to grouse and grumble about is the hot weather, then life must be pretty good for you!
That being said, humour and joviality aside, the summer in Japan is among the hottest and most humid on Earth. I don’t know exactly why but it always seems especially hot in Osaka. When I make my occasional weekend forays to Kyoto or Kobe it always seems somehow a little cooler and easier to move around. Perhaps its pollution, perhaps its geography, or maybe I’m just a little more hot-headed when I’m hard at work in Osaka!
For those new to Japan however, the heat and humidity can be overwhelming, so today, I hope to provide you with some hints and tips to help you survive your first Japanese summer.
One of the first things I noticed during my first Japanese summer all those years ago was the way in which Japanese women would often walk around with umbrellas at full extension during the midday sun. I often had to resist the simplistic temptation to shout “Put your umbrella down! It’s not raining!”
It wasn’t until I first got into a relationship with a Japanese woman, several months later that I realized my folly. Japanese women take great pride in their pale skin. It suggests beauty and elegance. A hint for all you single guys out there, if you are fortunate enough to have a date with a Japanese girl, NEVER EVER compliment her on her tan!
That bronzed look, that so many find alluring in Brazilian and Mediterranean men and women, is actively frowned upon by most Japanese ladies.
In due course, I learned that actually, carrying an umbrella around in summertime is not purely about beautification, it actually serves a very practical purpose. In the height of the Japanese summer, even just a few minutes of exposure to the midday sun can cause severe sunburn. I learned this to my own considerable pain during a recent trip to Lake Biwa. Yes guys, my first tip to avoiding the harsh effects of the Japanese summer, drop the machismo and get that parasol raised whenever you go for a walk outside in the afternoon.
Like many other foreign residents of Japan, I live in an apartment block. Whilst I love nothing better than relaxing on my balcony and enjoying the ocean view after a busy day at work, there is the added complication of the bay windows of your high rise apartment acting as the perfect sun trap, turning your front room into an oven, with you as the prime roast!
To counteract this, it is often all too tempting to sit back, turn on your air conditioner to full-power and recreate your own version of Mr Freeze’s lair from the Batman comics.
This is counterproductive in a number of ways. First off, using the air conditioner every day will, quite literally triple of even quadruple your monthly electric bill. Not only this, but it also means you will suffer all the more when you do step outside into the heat and that shockwave of warmth smacks you full in the face. Instead, try to adapt by limiting your use of the air conditioner to only the periods when it is extremely hot. And never take the temperature below 24 or 25 degrees. Not only will this help you to better acclimatize to the Japanese summer heat, it will also help to prevent the onset of the dreaded “summer cold”. Ventilation is also very important, so when you go out in the morning, security concerns permitting, try to leave a few windows open to ensure adequate ventilation throughout the day. I would also recommend keeping your bedroom window open at night to ensure a comfortable sleep as well. Just make sure your windows have mosquito guards installed.
And this brings me to my next problem with the Japanese summer. Insects, and lots of them.
If it’s not the mosquitoes feasting on your arms and legs as you walk through the park it’s the cockroaches that try to find their way into your house at night.
An important point to note when dealing with cockroaches. Never, ever step on them as a means of killing them. If you do, you will release dozens of microscopic eggs and literally multiply the problem. Instead, try to capture it alive, wrap it in tissue paper and throw it out of the nearest window. Also, remember to wash your hands thoroughly after handling any bugs in your house, dead or otherwise.
If the prospect of getting up close and personal with cockroaches is just too gross to even contemplate, you can, of course use the various insect killing sprays available from the local convenience stores and supermarkets. Personally though, I am not a big fan of these as the smell they create tends to linger for a long time afterwards, and it plays havoc with my dust allergies.
If you see more than one cockroach in a 24 hour period, it’s a fair bet that you have an infestation problem. Get onto your landlord about getting the place fumigated as soon as possible.
Finally, in the height of summer, we must also remain conscious of our personal health. As much as realistically possible, drink water as much as you can. Under ordinary circumstances, they say that the average human should consume 2-3 litres of water per day to maintain adequate hydration. Under the heat of the Japanese summer sun, I would say step it up to 3 or 4 litres a day. Thankfully, if there’s one thing Japan isn’t short of, its vending machines. Wherever you are, you are probably never more than a few minutes’ walk away from some cool refreshment.
Stay safe, stay cool everyone and have a great summer!