A few days ago, I came back to Japan after a business trip and holiday to Australia. Being in the Southern Hemisphere, it was coming to the end of winter. Winter in Oz is fairly mild, especially in the north where I’m from. It gets a bit chilly at night, but the days are beautiful and the sun-rays are still surprisingly strong; you can feel your skin burning after just a couple of seconds outside! I definitely turned a few shades darker over my trip! The amazing weather made it perfect for days at the beach, driving in the mountains, eating alfresco and relaxing outside at home. I tried to enjoy it as much as I could, because I knew once I got back to Tokyo, it’d be a completely different story…
It was 7 at night when we landed. As I got off the plane at Narita Airport and stepped onto the tarmac, I was hit with a wall of humidity. It was an abrupt welcome back to summer. Hot, sticky and uncomfortable summer. Quickly realising how humid it was, the other passengers were ripping off their jackets like there was no tomorrow! Granted, I did miss the worst of the heat wave while overseas, so I can’t complain as much as the rest of the folk who had to endure the mid-summer heat, but it felt like we had got off the plane and walked in a concrete box with no air.
During my first night back, I was really not thinking straight and didn’t bother to turn the fan on, just left the windows open. Silly me. I woke up in a panic at some ridiculous hour feeling like I was suffocating inside a sauna. I don’t like sleeping with the air-con on, but sometimes it’s just unavoidable.
Japan can be painfully hot in the summer time, reaching temps of 37°C most days and even up to 40°C on really hot days. The concrete buildings and roads seems to trap the humidity and turn the city in a sweltering hot house. Luckily, aside from sitting in front of the fan at home and carrying around a little portable fan outside, there are plenty of other ways to make the heat more bearable.
These are some of the ways that the Japanese get through the hottest time of the year, to stay cool and enjoy yourself at the same time!
1. Eating kakigori (shaved ice)
Kanna is one of the most popular shaved ice cafes in Setagaya, if not the whole of Tokyo. Apart from serving a delicious selection of flavours like mocha pudding, tiramisu, azuki beans and grapefruit, their claim to fame is that they get their ice from the mountains of Nikko. The naturally formed ice is transported to the restaurant rather than being artificially chilled, which results in the softest, lightest cool treat!
2. Eating matcha ice cream
Ice cream is a standard any time of the year, but it is especially good when it’s hot outside and you have to battle to lick it up before it melts all over your hand. Matcha (green tea) is by far the most popular flavour in Japan. Delish!
3. Eating hiyashi chuka
As the same suggests — chuka means Chinese (ramen is from China) and hiyashi means chilled — this is a cold ramen dish eaten only in summer. The toppings usually include a soft-boiled egg and thin slices of omelette, cucumber, ham, seaweed and radish. Sometimes it’s even served with ice to keep it extra cool. It’s the perfect meal for a hot day.
4. Walking under mist sprays
I’d only ever seen mist sprays at Disneyland before coming across this one in Kagurazaka. It’s a nice treat for shoppers as they stroll the streets in the heat!
5. Having fun at water parks
I’ve only been to two water parks in Japan. One was in Nagoya, the other was this one at Showa Kinen Park in Tokyo’s west. Entry will set you back about 2,000+ yen, but the facilities are amazing. This one had waterfalls, fountains, water slides, a wave pool and a river (floating pool). Just make sure you bring your sunnies and lather on SPF30!
6. Eating chilled cucumber
At every summer festival in Japan, you’ll see these kyuri (cucumber) sticks. I’m not a fan of cucumber, but people seem to love munching on them straight out of ice buckets!
7. Hanging out at beer gardens
Beer gardens and rooftop bars are a popular place to be on balmy summer nights in Japan. Getting together with a group of friends and sweating it out together is definitely a bonding experience. There are loads of beer gardens, you just have to find them! Usually, department stores with a rooftop terrace will convert it into a bar during summer. A lot of beer gardens have cheap all-you-can-drink options, so you can just drink drink drink. Kanpai!
8. Wearing a yukata
Yukutas are summer kimonos. You’ll see loads of men and women wearing yukatas at summer festivals, as well as just casually during the day. Lots of people choose to wear them because they are a cooler alternative to regular clothes. They are made from thin cotton fabric, with loose, breathable sleeves. The collar is worn pulled back, and hair worn up so that your neck is left airy and cool.
9. Visiting an ice house
If you’re really dying of the heat, there are always ice houses you can dash through! Ice World in Yokohama is -30ºC and is supposed to be like a trip to the North Pole. I didn’t last a minute before I was ready to get out! Though I definitely felt much cooler afterwards.
10. Listening to furin (wind chimes)
Lastly, this one is not so much about cooling down your body, but rather cooling down your mind. Fu means wind, and rin means bell. These glass wind chimes have been hung up every summer for hundreds of years. Their soft, soothing sound could relax anyone battling the heat!
What reminds you of summer? What are some things you do/eat/see to help you get through the hot months in your country?