It has been a hot few months in most parts of the world this year. In Japan, it's been blindingly, gaspingly hot. Apparently this is fairly normal here. During the sweltering rainy season, I laughed when I was told that summer season wouldn't officially start until Marine Day on July 19th. But as the moisture cleared and was replaced by a relentless, beating sunshine starting at 4am every morning (meaning that by 9am it's about 98 degrees Fahrenheit outside) the reality of the situation began to sink in.
It's been this way every summer for centuries here, and given the necessity of leaving air-conditioned spaces the Japanese have figured out a lot of additional ways to deal with the hot summer sun - some very old and some new. I'm surprised more of these devices haven't caught on in the Southern U.S. Here are a few:
* futuristic-looking, mist-emitting architecture on my local outdoor shopping street
* hand fans, folding and otherwise. Traditional, practical and portable. Also sometimes free, when emblazoned with ads.
* umbrellas and parasols - using your umbrella on a dry day may sound silly, but it makes a lot of sense when the temperature difference between shade and sunshine is vast.
* neck-cooling collars
* restaurants and shops that blast the AC into the street through open doors (??)
* covered walkways and shopping arcades (also crucial during rainy season)
* mentholated cooling shirt spray (here's one user's review)
* ice-cold beverage vending machines on every corner. And I mean every. corner.
* soft-serve ice cream in every flavor and combination you can possibly imagine: canteloupe, green tea, ramune soda, apricot, black sesame, and apparently even cuttlefish. Check out the Japanese Ice Cream blog for more.
* arcwelder-style full-face sun visors
* elbow-length gloves -- okay, so on a comfort level this has always baffled me, but it does help prevent sunburn.
There's a nice Japan Times piece on some more of the more newfangled heat-beating products you can find at your local Japanese convenience store. As I sit here in my muggy apartment covered in sweat I'm rather excited to try some of these out.