Surviving the Dreaded Japanese Summer

Summers in Japan are deadly–literally. During the hot and humid months of the year, you will most likely hear 3 or 4 ambulance sirens on average per day, due to someone collapsing from the heat. It can easily get up to 40°C in the summer and with the extreme humidity, that temperature can easily increase in feeling.

So how do you survive these outrageous temperature from Hell?

Check out some cheap and easy ways to stay cool (and out of the hospital) during your summer in Japan!


1. Use an ice pillow at night.

When I moved to Kyoto, it was the middle of September, which means it was still extremely hot.

So, what did I do to survive this? I practically ran to the nearest 100 Yen shop during my first few days and bought one of these lifesavers.

An ice pillow is basically an ice pack, designed to retain the cold and be comfortable enough to sleep through the night on.

Japan has really capitalised on this concept and designed numerous kinds of ice packs for every day usage, such as ones to stick directly on your forehead to reduce fevers or to put on your arm/leg/back/etc for aches and sores, as well as for clothes to keep cool. The pillow type keeps your head cool throughout the night, which works really well at keeping the rest of your body cool.

You can find the cheapest kinds at most 100 yen shops, varying in size, but are usually large, kind of soft ice packs. If you want more quality and accessories, the more expensive kinds can be found at department and drug stores, which usually come with an insulated pillow case and mix different ice types.


2. Handkerchiefs/Towels

You will sweat outside just as much as in a sauna during the summer in Japan. This makes it incredibly useful to carry around something to wipe away the sweat, such as a handkerchief, [mini] towel, or even just tissues (which you can get for free as samples nearly everywhere you go).

Use these to wipe your hands or dab your forehead and neck–trust me, you will be grateful for carrying one with you.


3. Open windows

It gets very expensive to use the A/C in Japan, regardless of where you are in the country, so it makes a lot of sense to keep your windows open in the morning and evening, to let some [slightly] cooler air and to ventilate the hot air out. No matter how hot it gets, when the sun goes down, there will be a cool breeze.

If you are worried about insects and spiders, most apartments have screens on the doors/windows to protect yourself or you can easily buy some nets from the 100 Yen shop in the summer months.


4. Keep a fan (or two!) running [at night]!

You will come to learn that using the A/C in your room, whether it be during the summer for cool air or in the winter for heat, it will eat your electricity bill. Devour it. Then spit it out and repeat just to spite you.

This is due to the fact there is no central A/C system within the walls, only the A/C system attached to the inside of the flat or house. Very few places tend to have central A/C systems, usually they are only in the northern most part of Japan where it gets very cold but you will rarely come across these in most places.
What does this mean?
 It means that your walls get no circulation and the only air you will get will be a straight forward path that just hangs in the air for a bit before moving to the ground and letting the heat back up. Joy.

You can buy cheap fans, that either require an outlet to be plugged into or that run on batteries, at most department stores and online shops. I strongly suggest buying one before June hits, somtimes even before mid-May, because not only will the prices start spiking up but also the heat will strike very quickly and you don’t want to be caught without some sort of cooling system.

Put the fan on “low” and stick it next to your face [at night] or next to your desk/chair if it’s during the day. If it’s on too high, you can get sick from the air blasting in your face all night, so be careful.

I actually have 3 different fans running in my flat when I’m at home usually so that I don’t touch the A/C.

Because 3 fans are cheaper than actually turning on the A/C…..why Japan, why?


5. Stay hydrated!

Whether it is green tea, water, sports drinks or any other drink, you have absolutely no excuse to not stay hydrated. Japan is extremely convenient in every way possible to stay hydrated, from convenience stores to vending machines on every street corner (even in the middle nowhere).

I tend to carry around my KOR NavaFilter Water Bottle in the summer, which I fill up in the morning, and it keeps my water chilled all day long. I also carry an insulated tea bottle with me sometimes instead of my other one, and I strongly recommend splurging on a good quality tea bottle.

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In the summer, I  tend to drink green tea for breakfast, and then I switch to 麦茶 ( “mugicha” /roasted barley tea).  Mugicha is considered a summer drink and I find it to be more hydrating at times than water. Childten in Japan tend to love drinking this stuff throughout the day as well.

Water in Japan, especially in the Kansai region, is filtered by the city so it it safe to drink from the tap. If you are not willing to cough up the money for bottled water, you can just drink that at home, and if you’re going out–then you can reuse an old bottle and fill it up.

If you’re the type that won’t touch tap no matter what, like a few of my friends, than you can buy water bottles, 1-2L are usually around 120-280 Yen, depending where you buy it and the brand. Summer, just like winter, is the season of new drinks.

Japan does not screw around when it comes to seasonal drinks and foods, so you will never run out of options each year. If you are brave enough to go out of your comfort zone, you can try seasonal drinks like Ramune’s seasonal flavours, or Pepsi Japan’s weird unique flavours of aloe vera, shiso, cucumber or salty watermelon… Or maybe a tomato beer is more your thing?


6. Find a way to reflect the sun.

Most mansions in Japan have very thin walls, so not only can your neighbours hear every little thing they absorb the weather conditions around them at all times.

If it’s hot as all hell outside, then your flat will be an oven if you don’t have a fan, A/C, or windows open. If it’s cold as ice outside, then you’ll be freezing until you get a heat source in there.

Shade truly goes a long way here, so if you are able to get your hands on some UV or windbreaker curtains, which are pretty common and useful in Japan, you can block out the insane heat.


7. Go out during the hottest part of the day.

Think I’ve lost my mind? Why would you willingly go out during the humidity (worse than the actual heat!!!) and heat?

Two words.
Free Air/Condition.

Why sit at home with your air conditioner on when someone else can pay the power bill? Go out shopping, to karaoke, Starbucks or any cafe (because there will be at least 5 on your local walking route; I’m willing to bet money on it), or to the movies during the hottest part of the day, from about 12 noon to around 16:00.

Or, you can always take a long nap in the middle of the afternoon, if you’re free.


8. Layer up with Uniqlo’s AIRism

Layering in the summer? No, I have not lost my mind. I promise. Maybe.

Layering up is a surprisingly ingenious way to stay cool in the deadly heat–just as long as you choose the right layers.

week23_l3cover_airism_wUniqlo’s AIRism is an innovative range of inner-wear with fabric fibres that was technologically developed here in Japan to give its wearer the perfect fit and comfort for all seasons. It has a number of positive perks and functions–from keeping you free of sweat to minimising the smell of body odour caused from sweating, by neutralising and absorbing unwanted scents and sweat for a fresh feel all day.
This is not magic, but rather ‘Cupro’, a rare type of fibre that derives from cotton linters, also known as the “breathable fibre”, that has amazing absorption and desorption capabilities.

The Uniqlo AIRism shirts are excellent a whisking away sweat, leaving you cool and comfortable.

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