Japan in summer: 8 ways to beat the heat

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Japan isn’t traditionally thought of as a “hot” country, but let me tell you – Japanese summers are flipping roasting. Unbelievably warm, in fact – and with an atmosphere so humid that you can almost swim in it.

Now don’t get me wrong – summer is a great time to visit Japan. Not only are there fewer crowds, but it has a whole plethora of its own unique attractions – from delicious summer foods and crazy ice cream flavours to beautiful beaches, fantastic scuba diving, amazing hiking opportunities, and some really awesome summer festivals. (If you need any more convincing, you can read our 10 reasons to visit Japan in the summer here.)

But there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s bloody boiling – and this can take some visitors by surprise, even if they have had a peep at the weather forecast before they travel. Sunburn isn’t the only danger – heatstroke is a real issue for those who fail to prepare adequately for the weather, and every year Japan sees a number of heat-related deaths and hospitalisations.

If you prepare correctly, however, there’s absolutely no reason why summer in Japan can’t be a thoroughly enjoyable time of year to travel. To help you beat the heat, we’ve whipped round a few of our Japan-based colleagues for their top tips on staying cool!

1. DO wear shorts and sandals

Some guidebooks advise against wearing shorts and/or sandals in Japan for cultural reasons, but in this kind of heat you really must dress for the weather. You will find that short-wearing is fairly uncommon amongst older Japanese people, even in the heat, but it is perfectly acceptable – and sensible. Be not afraid of offending sensibilities here.

Shorts & sandals = OK
Shorts & sandals = OK

2. Drink, drink, drink

Sorry folks, this point is a bit gross – but it’s not always easy to tell when you’re dehydrated. The best way to tell is to check your pee: if you’re not urinating regularly and if your urine is yellow, you need to drink more water! This is much more important than many people realise.

Despite all this drinking, you don’t need to worry about getting caught short – nearly every convenience store in Japan has a clean, well-stocked loo that you can use free of charge, and you’re never more than a few hundred metres from the nearest one. (Literally. You cannot move for convenience stores in Japan).

Extra tip: Convenience stores often keep some water and iced tea in the freezer during summer, so you can keep your beverage extra-cool for longer.

The heat is a great excuse to try Japan's weird and wonderful vending machines
The heat is a great excuse to try Japan’s weird and wonderful vending machines

3. Top up your sodium

Sweating lots in the heat can cause you to lose sodium, which can lead to a condition called hyponatremia. Drinking lots of water alone is not enough – you need to replenish your sodium levels too. The easiest way to do so is by drinking the occasional sports drink – such as the tantalisingly named “Pocari Sweat”. These contain sodium and are available from vending machines on practically every street in Japan.

Pocari Sweat
Pocari Sweat

4. Protect against the sun

This point is fairly obvious and I apologise for insulting your collective intellligences – but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Wear sun cream, wear a hat, cover your shoulders, seek out shady areas – or do as the Japanese do and carry a parasol. Whatever your preferred method, just be sure to protect against the sun.

5. Plan your day intelligently

From 12 noon until 3pm is generally the hottest part of the day, so to escape the most intense heat, try to plan any indoor activities to take place in the early afternoon. It also follows that early mornings and late afternoons can be the most pleasant times of day for outdoor pursuits.

6. Hydrate before you booze

As you’ll know from our previous summer blog posts, Japanese summer means a whole host of fabulous beer gardens, many of which offer “all-you-can-drink” plans for a set price over a certain period of time. It’s beer heaven!

If you’re planning to have a tipple or two on holiday, make sure that you drink plenty of water before and during to avoid stealth dehydration – a risk that’s easily forgotten after a couple of pints.

A beer garden in Odori Park, Sapporo
A beer garden in Odori Park, Sapporo

7. Wet your clothes

A good hack from our tour leader Steve is to wet your t-shirt, wring it and then shake it out before wearing. You’ll get a couple of hours of cool against your skin before it dries out – just make sure it’s not see-through before you venture outside!

Steve also likes to wear a damp cap, which he runs under the tap periodically throughout the day, and sometimes a damp towel around his neck if it’s getting really hot. He has even been known to dampen his cap in the morning and leave it in the freezer for a while for a very chilled start to the day!

8. Try a “cool wipe”

The Japanese convenience store to the rescue again! Not only does the humble “konbini” keep you stocked up with heat-emitting pads in winter, it can also provide cooling relief in the summer. Cosmetic brands Biore and Gatsby, available at most convenience stores, make “cool wipes” (wet wipes with a tingle) to cool the skin throughout the day.

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