Surviving Summer Heat in Japan
Many travelers who visited Japan in July or August discovered the heat can be difficult to bear at this time of the year. Summer in Japan is indeed sweltering, with a high hygrometry rate until September. Moreover, summer tends to last longer and be hotter over time.
What are the temperatures to expect during Japanese summer?
It is not unusual to see temperatures raise up to 40°C (104°F) under the shadow, therefore the sensation of heat feels even stronger under the sun. At night, it is frequent that temperatures do not fall 🍁 below 30°C (86°F) for several days and longer (the phenomenon is called 熱帯夜 nettaiya "tropical night").
In July 2018, for example, Japan suffered one of the strongest heat waves (猛暑 môsho in Japanese) since the beginnings of measurements in 1880. Temperatures in Kyoto reached 39,8°C (a record since 1994) and bore 7 consecutive days above 38°C. As for Tokyo, temperature reached 40,8°C on July 23 (for the first time in history). Nagoya was also hit with a record 40,3°C on August 3. In Kumagaya, Saitama prefecture, the historical record of 41,1°C was reached on July 23. During the heat wave, about 40,000 persons were admitted to the hospital due to heat stroke, and 80 died.
In 2019, history unfortunately repeated itself, with 18,000 hospital admissions and 57 deaths due to heat strokes over only one week (at the end of July).
There were 148 victims, solely for Tokyo on the three first weeks of August 2020 (of which more than 2/3 were aged 70 years and older), against 135 on the whole August 2019. On this month, temperatures established a new high as they were 2,1°C (35,6°F) above the average established since the beginning of statistics in 1946 (the former record was 1,9°C in 2010).
Additionally, daylight hours are significantly different from our western zones. In Tokyo, the sun rises at 4:30 a.m. and sets at 7 p.m. Moving towards west and south, these hours shift by a few minutes later.
How does Japanese cope with the heat?
It is all the more challenging as after tsuyu ☔️, it scarcely rains during the two summer months, despite a very high humidity rate. At night, the air conditioning (エアコン aircon or A/C in Japanese) is thus a must-have to sleep, and it is fortunately widespread.
During the day, shops, trains 🚅 and buildings also provide cooling through their A/C. Every summer, salarymen are entitled to a "summer wear" and can, if desired, drop the tie and exchange their shirt for a blouse.
Japanese people are traditionally discreet and do not often show they suffer from the weather. Their body is certainly more accustomed to undergoing heat waves in summer, but they also prepare accordingly. You will see a lot of fans, sponge-handkerchiefs, and umbrellas to hide from the sun. Some women also wear long gloves.
If you are traveling to Japan during summer, be prepared to sweat a lot. But it is not unbearable either. Of course, it depends on your heat resistance, but it should not prevent you from enjoying Japan. The evening shower is all the more welcomed.
Mosquitoes are in fact the real nuisance in summer, especially in parks and Japanese gardens.
Visiting Japan in summer also means matsuri festivals and their fireworks 🎆, ice creams, cicadas, and beaches 🏖. In almost every city, it is possible to get some fresh air: just outside Kyoto for example, Arashiyama, Kurama or Fushimi Inari will amaze you as much as they will refresh you!
In summer, Japan’s beauty is further enhanced by natural colors.
Tips to travel in Japan in summer: July and August
Some of you may fear to "have to endure" during their next trip to Japan at this season. To better enjoy the trip and avoid the 夏バテ natsubate or 暑気中り shokiatari (sluggishness and fatigue due to summer) syndromes, we have listed miscellaneous advice to help you cope with the Japanese summer!
In summer, the Japanese, and especially women, tend to cover their bodies, unlike westerners, and to use umbrellas. People who are not accustomed to heat will prefer the choice of light clothes: shorts and wide tee-shirt or light shirt for men / tank top and skirt or dress for women. Uniqlo has a "dry" range regarding this con at affordable prices, very comfortable and airy. Prefer wearing open-toe shoes if possible.
Let your skin breathe as much as possible. Tie your hair if it is long and use a water spray, a fan or even a pocket-sized cooling fan (available at any ¥100 Shop). It can also be useful to carry around a small towel to wipe sweat (called ハンカチ hankachi) that you keep in your pocket or place on the nape. They are sold everywhere and with thousands of beautiful patterns.
Note that if you use deodorants, they are not always easy to find in Japan, especially for men, so bring yours for your trip (put it in your suitcase, especially aerosol spray as it will not be allowed in your hand luggage before boarding the plane ✈️). Women may consider toning down the make-up and use some waterproof products, of which a large choice exists in Japan.
Food and drinks
Naturally, you should prefer eating cold and drink cool drinks. Japan lives up to its reputation of a country of services with konbini and vending machines at every corner in large cities. Allow about ¥80 to ¥130 (~US$0.55 to ~US$0.90) on average for a wide array of fresh drinks, from still water to funny discoveries, and of course a large range of teas.
A nice tip is to put in your backpack a thermos flask, filled with water, syrup or tea with ice cubes. It will stay fresh all along the sightseeing day. Drink a lot: two to three liters per day and per person is an average.
If you are planning to spend one or several days in outdoor sightseeing, especially if you are with kids, you will make the best use of a cooler backpack. A model such as this one, with reusable ice packs will perfectly fit your needs for the whole day.
You can also make the most of the Japanese cuisine’s variety to enjoy cold dishes (especially sashimi and fishes that are served fresh, cold soba noodles) and many ice creams and confectionery. Lastly you can also enjoy a fresh beer 🍺 with your meal!
Sightseeing choices and air con
It is difficult to consider the heat factor when planning a trip several months or weeks in advance. But once in Japan, look for the shadows as much as possible, and wear a hat or a cap when you know you will stay outside for a long time during daytime. In any case, pace your visits according to the heat.
Check the weather forecast in Japan and plan your outdoor visits on the "coolest" days as much as possible. For the hottest days, plan to visit museums, shopping malls and department stores to enjoy their aircon. Temples, shrines and castles 🏯 – except those that have been recently renovated- are rarely equipped with aircon. However, transportation (trains, subways 🚇 and some buses) have it most of the times, even if Setsuden saving energy measures have regulated its use.
Moreover, before going, only book accommodations where rooms are furnished with aircon! It is usually the case in Japan, but exceptions may arise. It is recommended to set the temperature no lower than 5°C below the outdoor temperature. Lastly, you can avoid onsen ♨️ hot springs (except in the evening), unless you want to enjoy the cold bath called 水風呂 mizu-buro!
We are all different regarding the way we can handle the heat. Expatriates in Japan usually get used to it after a few years. Therefore, make sure to be prepared to better enjoy your trip in Japan.