The Japanese are particularly proud of their four seasons. Blissfully unaware that many a nation also enjoys four varieties of weather, they nonetheless do have a great deal to be pleased with when it comes to the climate.
On one end of the scale I’ve been fortunate enough to live in Nagano Prefecture in freezing cold December when though my toes were either freezing off or close to melting under my kotatsu, I was able to enjoy the beauty of an endless range of snow capped mountains in every direction I cared to look.
Similarly my luck in landing just at the top of the Izu Peninsula, in sight of Mt. Fuji, a short train ride from the beautiful coastline and wonderful sunshine through most of the year is something… I’m not currently enjoying all that much.
You see there’s one problem with being an Englishman in Japan. We are by our very nature, atsugari or sensitive to the heat.
Now we’ve been having beautiful thirty one degree days around here of late, which would be fine if it weren’t for the horribly, stifling humidity. The sad reality of this is that I am too hairy, too painfully, awkwardly, sweatily British for such climes. I feel my brow gush salty water down my face from the second I step out the door in the morning and doubly so when I finally enter a beautifully air conditioned building for work.
It ought to be a relief yet the reality is that such a sharp change in temperature, while initially refreshing merely leads all the humidity you’ve somehow gathered up and dragged with your heavy-laden legs through the door to condense in seconds thus drowning you from within your own clothes.
So how do the Japanese survive this?
Well there’s cool biz which is essentially the sale of clothes that happen to cope far better with humidity and heat and the absence of long sleeves and ties for men.
There’s the air conditioners turned up to full blast despite last year’s and this year’s efforts at power saving or setsuden.
I personally make use of a frozen pillow while others opt for a strip of cool, blue fabric stuck to the back of their neck or to their forehead.
However, if you really want to understand how the Japanese get through such muggy, draining heat waves you’ve just got to look at how people spend their evenings in the summer months.
Summer festivals, fireworks, cold beer, BBQ meat on a stick and shaved ice in a cup topped with bright, fruity, sugary, sauce aka kakigori.
Much like I couldn’t make it through the misery of England’s winter months without Christmas and New year’s to brighten my horizon I couldn’t imagine getting through a long summer here in Shizuoka without the relief these festivals bring.
There really is nothing like seeing a previously sleepy town erupt into life as every family from miles around comes to eat, drink, carry Mikoshi (portable shrine), bash away at the Taiko drums and dance in the street.
So if like me you’re melting in this summer heat, do yourself a favour, slip into a yukata don some geta and crack open a cold one while gazing at a sky filled with more fireworks than Guy Fawkes has ever seen.
And be thankful, that while Christmas comes but once a year, matsuri (summer festivals) are every weekend.