Despite having enjoyed an extremely mild spring, summer in Japan has kicked off with ferocity. If you are from more tropical climes and currently living in Japan, you are likely wondering why everyone keeps moaning “atsuiiiii” (“It’s hot!”) and dabbing their faces with handkerchiefs. For the rest of us, though, summer is a sweaty nightmare that we have to endure. So, here are 5 tips for getting through summer without melting into a sad little puddle.
Whether this is your first summer in Japan or you are planning on moving here soon, you will 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. 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.
2. 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.
3. Get some summer ‘room wear’
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 mosquitoes to come and nibble on you. Relax in Japanese style this summer with some dedicated room wear, which you can pick up at most department stores or even Gap and Uniqlo. It may not look especially stylish, but if you get into the habit of bathing at night 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.
4. Chemical warfare
“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 mosquitoes buzz next to your ear at 3 a.m. and 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 repellents 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 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.
5. Know your 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 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.