text and photo by Grigoris A. Miliaresis
The first time I came to Japan, I made one of the mistakes that are typical for people who travel without considering themselves “tourists”: I didn’t read any travel guides believing that the information in these books are for people different than I. If I had indeed read some such guide, I would had seen one of the most basic and crucial bits of information for anyone visiting the country, i.e. that the worst period to visit is during the summer. Like all Southeast Asian countries, Japan has its own rainy season (generally known as “the monsoon” but the Japanese prefer to use their own word for it: “tsuyu”/ 梅雨 or “plum rain”) but that is not the worst part. The really hard part comes after that, from mid-July until late August, when the Japanese summer is at its peak.
Also like all Southeast Asian countries, the Japanese summer is hot and humid but these two adjectives are really inadequate to convey the feeling you get when you dare step in any non-air-conditioned space. Even when you get out of the shower –scratch that: even in the shower, if you shut down the water for even a couple of minutes- your skin turns into a slightly sticky surface, like the one in the back of a Post-it note. This means that it doesn’t feel like glue but it feels sticky enough to feel it draws even the particles of dust floating in the air, making your sweat (and after a certain moment you are sweating rivers) come out oily and enhancing the hair-raising sense you experience in your whole body.
Theoretically the Japanese should have gotten used to it but in reality every summer they put to use a whole array of countermeasures, some primitive and some modern, to get away from this sense they call “beta-beta” (べたべた) and which accompanies the humid heat called “mushi-atsui” (蒸し暑い). Sprays that keep the skin dry and sleek, air-conditioners and fans everywhere, artificial rain in public spaces, de-humidifiers, air-chimes (their sounds supposedly has a cooling effect), ice-packs in the form of muffles for the neck, cold watermelon, anti-sweat stickers, syrup-flavored shaved ice, mini-thermos bottles filled with barley tea and lots of towels in various sizes are just a few of these measures but everybody knows that nothing is completely efficient. The only thing that can save you from mushi-atsui is endurance and hope for a cool autumn.
Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years.