6 Tips to Survive the Japanese Summer
Beat the Japanese heat following these easy tips!
Summer has finally arrived in the land of the rising sun. Anyone who has been in Japan for this season can tell you that the Japanese summer is very harsh, with temperatures that can rise and exceed 30ºC of heat and suffocating humidity. So if you are currently living in Japan or you have to come on a trip, today I want to give you 6 ideas to survive the Japanese summer.
Probably many of our readers come from hot countries and think that heat is not a problem for them, however the Japanese summer has a big problem: humidity. Japan is an island, and that makes it to be an extremely humid country in the summer. More than high temperatures, the most difficult thing to stand is moisture sticking to your skin. But don’t just trust yourself because you come from a hot country and if you are going to travel to Japan in summer, you better be prepared.
Buy one of the famous tenugui towel
When you travel to Japan in summer, one of the things that may surprise you the most is that in many stores, both souvenirs shops and various utensils places, they sell characteristic and peculiar hand towels with different patterns. They’re the tenugui towels (手拭い), made of cotton.
I remember that on my first trip I was quite surprised. Why were there so many places with those little towels and why so many prints? After two days in Japan I understood: towels serve to wipe away sweat. As we mentioned before, it is an extremely humid country. It is getting out of the shower and before you get to your room you are already sweating. Nobody likes to go sweating to places, so the Japanese have ended up taking the habit of always carrying a small towel with them to dry their sweat.
Although the typical ones as we say are the tenugui, made of cotton, it’s also common to see these hand towels but of towel fabric itself. In fact, in the day to day I have seen Japanese people using more this type of towels than the tenugui. In addition, there are usually two sizes: some smaller and squared, which are usually carried by women in the hand or in the bag and others more elongated, which many men carry around their necks. Also as we say there is a wide variety of prints: with anime or video game motifs, traditional Japanese themed, etc.
Refresh yourself using refreshing sprays or wipes
If in winter we have kairo (カイロ) or heat patches, in summer we could not miss wipes or refreshing products. The most common are sprays to apply to the skin or refreshing wet wipes. In addition to clean up a little and wipe off sweat, these wipes generate a great feeling of freshness after use (they usually have things like mint or lemon, which further enhance that feeling of freshness). They are easily available in any drugstore, konbini or supermarket, and they sell from large to small packages, designed to be easily carried in your bag or backpack. One of the best known and easy to find are the “Ice Type” products from the Gatsby brand.
For those who cannot stand the heat very well and only do not feel better with these things, another option is the hiyaron (ヒヤロン). The hiyaron work in a way quite similar to the kairo that they use in winter, but in reverse. It is a product that you have to give a strong blow to activate, and once it is activated the package cools down quickly (in the same way that the kairo when activated begin to give off heat).
The Japanese use it to cool delicate areas with these temperatures, such as the nape of the neck or the forehead. It has the advantage that you can buy it at any time and carry it in your bag or backpack, and not activate it until you want to use it. Once activated, it lasts about half an hour.
Eat kakigori and zaru soba
Kakigori (かき氷), known in the west as “Japanese ice cream”, consists of shaved or crushed ice with syrup. The syrup can be of different flavors like strawberry, lemon or melon or other more Japanese like green tea or red bean. Sometimes it is sweetened with condensed milk on top of ice cream, and is the star food of summer in Japan and matsuris. They are very refreshing, but you have to be careful because being ice if we eat it very quickly can cause a headache.
Another of the most popular dishes among the Japanese to beat the summer heat is cold soba or zaru soba (ざるそば). For those who do not know this dish, they are basically noodles made from buckwheat flour and can be eaten cold in summer or hot in winter, like ramen. I personally like them colder because in winter I prefer ramen, which has more flavor. They are usually accompanied with some tempura (another option would be cold udon).
Get an uchiwa or a portable electric fan to beat the heat
Uchiwa (団扇) means fan in Japanese. However, it is different from those we know in the West. An uchiwa is a rounded and flat fan, which in the west is commonly known as pai-pai (although you have to be careful with this because in Japanese pai-pai means female breast or boobs)
As with the fan in many other countries, uchiwa is a very popular supplement in the hot summer of Japan. Traditionally it is made of paper with a handle, but nowadays it is very common to see them made of plastic and paper. Just as in winter many companies or department stores distribute handkerchiefs with advertising, in summer it is common for uchiwas to be distributed to customers or passers-by. As it is hot and practical and useful, they are sure that many more people accept them (if they were leaflets, surely many would not want it). In this case, they replace the traditional drawings of the uchiwa with the emblem of the brand or some promotional message or offer of the same. Since they are intended to be used and thrown away, there is no point in making them out of wood, which is why they opt for the much cheaper version of plastic.
Recently there is a new trend in Japan – portable mini fans. Uchiwa are useful, but they have the disadvantage that you have to carry them in your hand all the time and they are quite large. These small portable fans can be kept in the bag or carried around the neck, depending on the model. In addition they are electric, so you don’t have to do anything, just push the button and enjoy the refreshing feeling. Lately they can be found both in electronics departments and in any shopping street, of different designs and prices, and have become one of the most purchased souvenirs by tourists.
Buy cold drinks from vending machines
Drink vending machines are one of the most famous things in Japan. Not because they have something special (in all countries there are vending machines) but because they are everywhere, and rarely there is only one. Also, the variety of drinks is highly noticeable as well.
These machines are convenient for us both in summer and winter. In winter they supply hot drinks, and in summer cold drinks. Trying out the different drinks with different and original flavors, such as the famous grape and melon fantasies, is a good and cheap way to cool off while visiting the country.
It is easily deductible perhaps, but hot drinks are those that have the name on a red label, while those that have it on a blue label are cold.
Sunscreen and aftersun
This is a recommendation especially for tourists, since when you are visiting a city you spend many hours in the sun. People in hot countries or with darker skin may not have as much of a problem, but people with very fair skin like me sometimes tend to forget this detail. Since we are not at the beach or the pool sunbathing, we do not realize we need sunscreen. But although it may not seem like it because we are walking, the sun also burns in the areas that we don’t have covered. While visiting Kamakura with my parents it was a very sunny and hot day, and when I returned I had a large part of my neck, chest and face red hot. It took me several days to get rid of the burning and since it was still sunny, it hurt and it became worse. So if you are like me, I recommend not forgetting about the sunscreen if you don’t want to have a bad time afterwards.
If you do not know which sunscreen to buy, this article can help you!
What do you think of my list? Did you like it? Despite the heat, the Japanese summer also has many good things, such as festivals or fireworks (although this year they have been canceled by the covid-19) so it’s a good time to come on a trip too. But you have to take care of your health and be careful with the heat. By following these tips, I’m sure it will be much easier for you to get through the summer in Japan.
If you need other tips or recommendations for summer in Japan, check out these articles too!