If you’ve spent summer in Japan then you know how brutal the heat can be—especially in the cities. The weather from every season can be intense and summer is no exception. It’s important to stay healthy and cool. So here are our top tips for how you can stay cool during the Japanese summer.
Clothing & Accessories
It can be tricky to feel good while looking good during the summer heat and humidity.
Japan has been fighting the sunshine for centuries with lightweight cotton clothes, like jinbei and yukata. These usually summer-festival clothes come in a variety of styles, motifs, and prices. They also make for some great loungewear.
If traditional isn’t your style, why not opt for sandals and shorts? Taboo, some might say—but it’s better than sweating through your pants!
Face masks made for summer
Masks. A necessity in this COVID world of ours. Even as the situation improves and Japan takes steps toward recovery and safety, it’s still important to wear that dreaded mask. We get it. It’s hot, sticky, gross-feeling, and breathing is a chore—but Japan has some great alternatives and new takes on the simple face mask.
Why not try a breathable air mask from Uniqlo? You can even find masks with cool pack inserts to cool down your face while you wear it, even sold in some vending machines! Or if you find the stuffy air is stuffing up your nose too, try a minty mask to ease your breathing and freshen up the air.
Sunglasses & sun cream
Sunglasses and sun cream/ sunscreen aren’t just for the beach. Protect your eyes and your skin from the harsh sunlight.
Sunglasses can be a little tricky to find—unless you want a brand-name pair. Check at eyeglasses shops like JINS or Zoff. Better yet, order a pair online and have them mailed to you to save yourself some yen.
Sun cream comes in a variety of SPF and in a range of products. From spray on to lotion to BB cream and makeup powder—even in cooling ice sheets. You won’t have a difficult time finding affordable sun cream so whatever form you want it in, be sure to protect yourself.
UV umbrella & clothes
After you’ve got your sunglasses and sun cream, why not do as the Japanese do and use a UV-cut umbrella. You’ve doubtlessly seen people walking around with umbrellas despite there not being a single cloud in the sky. It’s just another way to protect oneself from the harmful rays of the sun. If you decide to get a UV-cut umbrella, practice proper etiquette and be mindful of others nearby—especially on crowded city streets.
In addition to umbrellas, many ladies will don black sleeves or UV-cut caps to protect their complexion. It seems like adding more heat but if you’re worried about your skin, tanning, or cancer then you can buy these UV-cut sleeves at many department stores.
Cooling sheets & sprays
Deodorant is a summertime must for many. After all, who wants to stink of sweat? Ice sheets (hiya sheets) have the added benefit of not only being a deodorizer but also being a wet wipe that leaves a cool, tingly feeling in its wake. Gatsby and Biore make some of the most popular cool sheets. Word of warning though, don’t use it on your forehead or around your eyes.
If you don’t have the space to carry around wet wipes try an ice spray. These mini cans deliver a powerful burst of cold air—although the aerosol spray is much less eco-friendly than the sheet version.
You’ll also see many Japanese using decorative hand towels or washcloths to just wipe away the sweat. Another solution to a smelly problem.
Whether traditional or technological, fans play a big role in summer.
Traditional uchiwa fans are the kind that don’t fold up; while sensu fans fold neatly and can fit in a purse or other bag. These are typically paper or fabric and come in beautiful patterns and colors. The uchiwa are particularly popular during festivals of concerts for fans of idols to wave around.
Electric fans are gaining popularity and neck fans are a surefire to stay cool while you’re out and about. Some of the newer models even having mist features that spritz you with a gentle mist of cool water. Sounds luxurious in summer.
Culture point: Many Japanese industrial companies also have jackets with inline fans that puff up the jacket with wonderful cool air. These are powered by a small battery pack inside the jacket pocket. Maybe not a solution to summertime sweat but you'll see them on the trains and about the city.
Water packs & forehead sheets
A long towel (tenugui) dampened and chilled goes a long way in summer. It isn’t an uncommon sight at schools to see students and teachers with a wrung-out cloth tucked into the back of their shirt. For ladies, there are decorative scarves that fit a frozen ice pack (hiyaron) to stay cool. These can usually be purchased at places like Loft or other department stores.
Another easy remedy—though maybe not one you want to be seen wearing—are forehead patches that are designed to reduce or alleviate fever pain. Pop a box of these in the refrigerator and stick it on your forehead while you’re relaxing at home or your hotel and you’ll be chilling in no time.
Food & beverages
Summertime means heat and heat means dehydration if you’re not careful. It’s important that you stay hydrated. Many a visitor—and even Japanese people too—underestimates the summer heat and will pass out from heatstroke.
Luckily, there are vending machines everywhere in Japan. And most of them come stocked with refreshing and hydrating drinks. Forego the soda in favor of something like Pocari Sweat or Aquarius (both refreshing sports drinks designed to re-hydrate).
And if you’ll be visiting one of Japan’s many summertime beer gardens or other drinking festivals, drink up something non-alcoholic before the booze-fest begins.
Japan is known by many for its delicious foods. And summer treats are no different. Cool down with one—or a few—of these summertime dishes.
Rei shabu: Meaning “chilled shabu-shabu”, this dish is made of slices of boiled, chilled pork with raw veggies, like cucumbers and carrots, and a light coating of sesame dressing. A favorite for many.
Nagashi somen: It’s basically a summer tradition for many Japanese people to try their hand at catching the boiled noodles in a cold-water bath. Once you’ve finally caught a mouthful, dip it in the sauce or garnish with green onion or ground ginger.
Chilled tofu: Sounds simple, doesn’t it? And it is! Dress up your chilled tofu with some soy sauce, sesame seeds, or ground ginger.
Kakigoori: Ah, what summer is complete without shaved ice? And Japan has some of the best on offer. Not to mention the prettiest. Find a mountain of shaved ice flavored with strawberry, Hawaiian blue, kiwi, or go for something traditional like matcha with red bean paste.
Shio-ame: Feeling a little sluggish? Try shio-ame—literally salt candy—this quick pick me up will replenish your body’s salt and give you something to salivate over.
Stay cool & comfy
Escape to a green oasis
If you just can’t seem to stay cool no matter what and the heat has you getting irritated and cranky why not just take a break from your scheduled day? Visit one of Japan’s beautiful forests. Watch the waves by beachside or riverside. Maybe even take a trip to a water park.
The cities heat up especially bad in summer, even the “smaller” cities like Kyoto become a hotspot thanks to their location. It’s a good idea to soak up some nice greenery and enjoy the cooler air.
Avoid the sun
No, we’re not talking about dashing from one patch of shade to the next. That definitely won’t keep you cool or make you look cool, for that matter. Instead, try planning your tours or outings during the cooler times of the day. Usually before noon and after 4 pm are the best times to go out.
If you’re out during those times, try to find routes that don’t take you outside so much. You can usually find an underground route in the big cities. Or take a short respite in the delicious AC of a conbini. A short break away from the sunlight can do wonders for your energy levels and hydration.
Summer means bugs. Yuck! Especially mosquitoes. These pesky little vampires are everywhere in Japan. You’ll be hard-pressed trying to escape their bite no matter where you go.
Instead, try a mushi-yoke bracelet or spray. Mushi-yoke, or bug repellents, are common to see at drug stores across Japan. Some of the bracelets or necklaces made to keep pests away are even quite fashionable. Save yourself from itching and swelling.
If you're staying at home, try to find a katori senko, or mosquito coil. These usually come in a variety of animal-shaped figures, but can be quite stylish and modern too.