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July 31, 2008

Japanese Customs: Ten ways to beat "Natsubate," Summer Fatigue

When you have noticed my slow speed of posting these days, you may also have guessed what is the matter: I am fighting Natsubate, "summer fatigue"... My body feels like a piece of lead, and my head is troubled by a persistent cloud of sleepiness...

I am therefore employing several shrewd tricks from the Japanese summer fatigue trick book, and below I would like to share a few that are actually quite effective:
  1. Avoid large temperature changes. Stepping out of a coldly air conditioned room or car into the sweltering summer heat, hits you like a hammer. Such sudden temperature changes are very tiring, as your body needs all energy to adjust. Put the aircon a few degrees lower (in Japan, 28 degrees is now quite common), so that the temperature difference ideally is not more than five degrees...
  2. Sleep cool. The heat makes it difficult to enjoy a good, refreshing sleep. Turn on the aircon before you go to bed to chill your room, and use the timer to stop it after an hour or so.
    Why? Sleeping with a strong aircon on can give you a severe cold - I got one during my first airconditioned summer in Japan, and it took me three weeks to recover.
  3. Drink cool (and frequently). The traditional Japanese summer drink is cold roasted barley tea (mugi-cha), and it is one of my favorites. But there many other types of cold teas as well: cold green tea, cold oolong... the most economical (and tasty) way is to make them yourself in a glass or plastic container in your refrigerator. Another refreshing summer drink is cold sake, especially of the type called nama genshu (undilutued, unblended, rather raw sake which explodes in your mouth like a fireworks). You can also try sake ice!
  4. Eat cool and light. Cold noodles are always excellent in Japanese summers (somen, zaru-soba or reimen), or try the age-old fatigue-killer, the mighty eel (unagi).
    Eel is expensive nowadays, but you don't have to make a full meal of it, a small piece of unagi is a delicious side-dish with cold noodles.
    That being said, king of summer vegetables is the Okinawan bitter gourd goya, full of vitamin C, usually eaten as goya champuru, a stir-fry consisting of slices of the bitter gourd with tofu, egg, pork, and other ingredients.
  5. Enjoy cool fruit. The king of summer fruit in japan is the the juicy suika, water melon. When asked what they like best about summer, many Japanese will mention this fresh fruit. It is also healthy thanks to the minerals it contains. Some special types of melons fetch unbelievable prices, but the normal supermarket variety is exquisitely affordable. My personal fruity favorites, by the way, are the small and sweet Japanese grapes, which in summer become available for a reasonable price.
  6. Dress cool. Do as the Japanese: keep your suit and tie in the office and commute in your shirt. When I give a lecture or training, I must wear a suit, but I carry the jacket and tie in a special bag and only put them on after I arrive.
    At home and in your neighborhood, try a yukata or "retro-chic" Buddhist samue work clothes - they also come with short pants. And don't forget to carry a fan!
  7. Listen to coolness. The sound of coolness is the furin, the windbell made of either metal or glass. Hang it in a window or on your balcony and enjoy its tinkling sound when struck by the slightest breeze.
    Of course, you have to open the window and stop the aircon - which also enables you to enjoy another Japanese summer phenomenon, the semi or cicadas and their all-penetrating, shrieking sound... For me, cicadas are symbolic for summer in Japan. Smell coolness. The Japanese burn spiral-shaped incense coils (katori-senko) in summer to chase away the mosquitoes. It is a very nostalgic smell. Buy a nice stand for your green coil and put it in a corner of your room or on the veranda (it is quite strong, so take care not to inhale too much - you can also extinguish it now and then). By the way, I prefer temple incense for a nice fragrance in my room.
  8. Get the shivers. Traditionally, August is the month to see a ghostly Kabuki play, or watch horror movies. Select a real good shocker that gives you literally the shivers - this is more effective than the strongest aircon! Kwaidan is a good one, as is Yotsuya kaidan - see my post about the Best Japanese Horror Films!
  9. Take it easy. The speed in Japan can sometimes be frenetic, but in summer everyone changes to a lower gear. Is that why I sometimes even like Japanese summers?