Monday, August 6, 2012

Summer in Japan

It's summertime!

I love the summer, because it's not cold, and there's no snow, but summer in Japan comes with a few challenges.

Summers in Japan are pretty hot, but the big problem here is the humidity. It's not so bad up in northern Japan, such as Hokkaido (although the winters in Hokkaido blow in right off of Siberia, so you can imagine how furiously cold and snowy they are), but summers in the more southern areas are a test of edurance.

I spent a couple summers in Morioka, which is in Tohoku, the northeast of Japan. Those summers were pretty nasty, and Tohoku is a poorer area of Japan, so air conditioning was not always consistent. For example, the schools I worked at did not have air conditioning, at all. The best they did was to open the windows wide to tempt in breezes, and use rotary fans. I admit to being anti-AC. I don't use it at home. Nor do I use heat in the winter, if I can avoid it. So, I didn't complain, but it was still awfully hot. Students and teachers alike use hand held fans most of the day. Wherever you go, you'll see most Japanese people carrying hand held fans of one variety or another.

Women also cover up, including long gloves, long sleeves, and big hats or visors. Many also carry umbrellas to shade themselves. Although it would be nice if they were doing these things thinking to avoid skin cancer, they're actually doing it to avoid getting even a tan, because they think white skin is the most beautiful skin. A big difference from the US, isn't it, where a tan is considered "healthy"? I spoke to one lady, trying to tell her that she could just use sunblock, but she worried she'd still get a tan through sunblock--which granted, she might--and so chose to don the long gloves and hat and everything. I can see how the hats and umbrellas could provide some shade to keep cool in, but I imagine that under all those layers, they must be getting baked alive and sweating like crazy.

Now, I'm in the Kanto area. Although it's not a lot hotter than Tohoku, it is more humid, and that gives rise to a big problem--mold and mildew.

I encountered this problem first hand when I left my apartment closed up for a day or two while staying over at someone else's house. I came back to find mold growing on everything natural. Leather, untreated wood, and some cotton items were covered with a layer of mold. I had to throw out several items that were too far gone to save, and spent a few hours scrubbing mold off of leather shoes, out of canvas, out of my jeans, and from other places, too.

Complaining about it on Facebook got me some advice, and I went to buy some tubs of stuff that absorb moisture, so now there's one in each closet, and one by my bed. Supposedly, futon (the thin pads that Japanese sleep on) are in great danger from mold and mildew, but in my time in Japan I have never had trouble with them getting gross. Even now I check under my futon, mattress pad, and mattress (because I can't sleep on a futon without pain, I bought a mattress to supplement) and still find no traces of mold or mildew.

Japan, however, has some redeeming aspects to their summer. The summer festivals feature yummy faire-food, parades with various floats--from the kind carried on people's shoulders, to big ones built on vehicles, to floats that look like boats which are pulled down the streets at great speed by dozens of people (in Kushiro, Hokkaido)--song, dance, and fireworks, which I love! I have seem some of the best fireworks in Japan. My favorites thus far have been the ones in saw in Hakodate, in Hokkaido, during my 2011 summer vacation.

The ruler is in centimeters.
Many Japanese people complain about the bugs in summer, and call summer "bug season" which is certainly true. The cicadas will start chirping and whirring and squeaking from every tree as soon as it gets warm. Big (and I mean BIG) spiders start showing up. Some of them hang out in webs and can be the size of ping-pong balls, while others hunt other bugs by running at great speeds, but they're not usually dangerous to humans.

Harmful bugs like Japanese centipedes, however, will also become much more active and will bite if handled or accidentally stepped on or rolled over on, or such. I was bitten by a centipede this summer already, but it didn't require medical treatment. Somehow or other it got into my apartment, I felt a tickle on my leg, reached down to scratch it, and scared the centipede, so it bit my leg. The hornets the size of sparrows are much more dangerous, especially according to Japanese people, who it seems have been well-taught to fear them. I have read that they will attack if they feel their territory is threatened.

Japanese girls, in general, seem terrified of most bugs, even obviously harmless ones, like moths, but I have also seen young Japanese men scared to the point of immobility and sweating when walking through a butterfly conservatory. I'm not sure what harm they thought the butterflies would do, but it was a startling experience for me, too, to see them so terrified. There are big, gorgeous butterflies here in Japan, including black ones almost the size of my hand, and I love seeing them fluttering about.

There are also mosquitoes by the hundreds and I've gotten lots of bites. Unfortunately, the anti-itch cream sold in drugstores (like most medicines sold in drug stores) is nearly ineffective. To get real medicine in this country, you must go to a doctor.

But truly, compared to winter, summer is not that bad here. Especially in the Kanto area, every building has AC, and they turn it way, way up so that the buildings nearly become frigid, despite government mandates that due to power shortage the AC should be set at 28 degrees Celsius. Where I am, near the coast, many Japanese people go swimming to cool off. Unfortunately, the oceans aren't very clean; I see trash floating in the water a lot, but that's not much different from many parts of the US. The oceans are abused all around the world.

So, now I look ahead to a twelve day trek I've planned for myself over six mountains and through four cities. I'm looking forward to the cool--maybe even cold--weather up on some of Japan's most beautiful and holy peaks. With this adventure I will climb all three of Japan's "holiest mountains": Tateyama, Hakusan, and Fuji. I will surely return with gorgeous photos, sore legs, and many precious memories.

I'll post some more blog entries about the trip when I get back and recover.

Mata, ne.


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