Surviving Japanese Summer

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Everyone in Japan hates Summer.
“But why, Summer is great! The sun, the heat…”
No, that’s Japanese SPRING. Here, Spring is the season of temperatures in their early twenties, beautiful flowers and sunshine. Summer is a different matter.

During the Summer, the weather becomes what we call ‘mushi atsui’ – literally ‘insect hot’. In other words, it becomes so hot and humid that all of the bugs come out to play. When the sun shines, it’s scorchingly hot, and when it doesn’t it’s raining and the dense clouds trap you in an uncomfortable earth prison of cockroaches and sweat. But there are some methods of surviving these awful conditions, as Japanese people do every year. So I’m going to share these with you!

1. Get an ice cream from an ice cream vending machine
Because Japan is a magical heavenly place, it’s not rare to come across a vending machine just for ice cream. These are a wonderful blessing. As well as being a fun novelty for people who come from countries which do not have ice cream vending machines, they’re also very useful when you’re hot, sticky and annoyed and just want to eat ice. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better than this, as well as ice cream in a cone or on a lollipop as is usual in the UK, here they also sell ice cream sandwiches which involve ice cream between biscuit or waffle. Truly there is no shortage of ice cream to satisfy your Summer cravings. 

2. Shelter under your sun-umbrella 

Umbrellas for the sun seem like an utterly ridiculous concept for the average Brit. But in Japan, tans are considered unattractive and undesirable, so most women (and some men) take measures to keep their skin from tanning in the sun. One of these measures is to buy a sun umbrella (a ‘higasa’)! These are sold all over the place and come in an array of adorable designs. Sun-umbrella culture can make Tokyo look like Europe in the 1800’s on a sunny day. I’ve never been a human who can tan. Now in Japan I’m thankful for this, because the crazily white skin that people used to tease me for is now ultimately desirable. Sun-umbrella culture is an absolute godsend for me, as a person who burns within about fifteen minutes of being outside in the sun. In Britain if I were to protect my skin in this way I’d undoubtedly be labelled a weirdo. But here, it’s completely normal, so I can say farewell to the stickiness of suncream and embrace the umbrella life instead.

3. Use bug nets and mosquito repellent

I’ll come right out and say that some of the bugs here are absolutely terrifying. There are these giant wasps which can kill you, as well as things like praying mantises and cockroaches which are just evil in a brown oval shape. To stop all of these disgusting terrible creatures from terrorising you, you need a bug net on your window. If you don’t already have one in your room in Japan, they are worth investing in. If you’re like me and you hate bugs with a burning fiery passion, you’ll also brush off all your clothes before stepping inside, just in case. (Although this didn’t stop one cockroach which literally fell out of my air conditioning unit once – true story.) But of all the summer bugs in Japan, the worst are mosquitos. Although they’re tiny and not as terrifying as cockroaches, they are everywhere, and they bite like crazy. Bug nets will prevent them from getting to you inside, but outside NOBODY IS SAFE. In order to minimise bodily damage and avoid looking like a white and red Dalmatian all Summer, in Japan you can buy tons of different mosquito sprays for your skin from any pharmacy/cosmetics store. They work, and they a worth it. Especially if you’re going to be doing sports and sweating a lot.

4. Use hairspray, make-up setter and cooling-gel

If you’re not willing to invest in these products you can say goodbye to looking good for three whole months. Without hairspray, within about half an hour of being outside the humidity will have destroyed your originally perfectly-sculpted hairdo. As far as makeup goes, if you don’t keep cool by staying indoors your eyeliner will smudge and your foundation will start to melt. It’s not a good look. Sometimes I can literally feel my face melting. So if you love your hair and face, heed my warning and take precautions for Japanese Summer.

5. Carry a towel

It seems that Japanese people actually heed the advice given in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and carry towels. Men and women alike do this, and you’ll often see people using them to wipe away their sweat during the day. They’re also useful in case you spill something, or in case public toilets don’t provide you with anything to dry your hands with (a regular eventuality). If you don’t have a towel that is handy enough to carry around, there are a ton of places where you can purchase one in Japan. You could buy a cute towel in a sweet design, or even one with your favourite character on it! I bought a Totoro towel from a Ghibli merchandise store.

6. Just stay the hell inside

These measures all go some way towards helping you cope with the hell of the outdoors during Japanese Summer. But as my Japanese friends have been eager to tell me, and as I’ve quickly learnt, the most effective way of staying sane and happy is to just be inside. Japanese summer also overlaps with exam season and the end of the academic year, so you’ll have plenty of work to be doing at your desk at home. Alternatively, there are also countless indoor shopping malls in Tokyo to explore if you’re feeling bored.

But Summer in Japan is not all doom and gloom, as much as sometimes it makes you want to curl up into a ball and die. As well as being a time of awful weather conditions for everyone, it’s also a time for festivities, as thousands of shrines and temples host Summer festivals (after dark, so it’s not as boiling) with abundances of yummy street food, games and fireworks! Summer also brings with it a host of new uniquely Japanese sounds, like the sounds of traditional Summer windchimes and the cicada (‘semi’) buzzing away in the trees (a kind of crazy insect a bit like a really loud, massive cricket – don’t worry, they never leave the trees, so you don’t ever have to deal with how terrifying they look). These sounds are really relaxing and beautiful, I think.

A semi in his natural, terrifying state

My new fuurin, chiming away on my balcony

So if you were planning to come to Japan in the summertime, I’d advise you not to, if you have the option of coming another time instead. But if you’re coming to Japan for a long time (for instance, on a year abroad like me), Summer is inevitable but endurable, as long as you can still appreciate the beauty of the country through the scorching, humid air. (It is still a magical place full of wonders, even if these wonders are all sweaty and covered in insects!) As I’ve shown, there are numerous coping mechanisms for these conditions, so you should come out of it okay. Try not to melt, and to shield yourself from the army of bugs. Fighting!

From a very sweaty utopia,


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