Surviving the sweaty, steamy, swampy Tokyo summer

One thing about expats in Tokyo is that we are from all areas and climates of the world.  I come from a wet, wet rain forest of a city while a buddy of mine comes from the always sunny, blue skies California.  We didn’t grow up in Tokyo so unlike the native inhabitants of this fair city, who can navigate the frigid winters and horribly hot summers, expats don’t know how to survive in these conditions and most leave for other ports of call.  Those of us who choose to stay or are stuck here endure the Tokyo summer but there are some tricks to surviving this heat.

First of all let’s talk about the heat.  Right after the rainy season ends in June summer starts with a bang, with temps that usually hoover around 35°C (95°F)  but it’s not the heat that kills you here, it’s the humidity.  Walking around in this oppressive summer weather is like walking through the steam of a hot shower.  Step foot outside and within minutes your shirt will be drenched in sweat.  So to survive follow these tricks of the trade…


Keep Calm and Drink water
This is totally necessary as heat stroke and heat exhaustion are real threats in Tokyo especially for the uninitiated expat. You can go without pissing in Tokyo for days just because all liquid leaves your body through your pores.  When I went to Burning Man, they had a newspaper, called “piss clear”.  It’s a small publication that tells you about the events going on at the event but their mantra was “drink enough water till you piss clear” if it’s yellow you aren’t drinking enough water.  Same applies to Tokyo, Drink More Water!

Deodorants and Cooling sprays

Contrary to popular opinion Japanese stores do sell Deodorants. Sure if you go on a train in Japan you’re guaranteed to go face to face with some salary man BO but in these sweaty, hot conditions there is no way to avoid it, no matter how much deodorant you slather on. There was a great post on Quora that talks about deodorant in Japan:

You can buy deodorant in Japan. It’s called デオドラント (deodoranto). In terms of personal care items though, it’s a second-tier product, by which I mean it’s not ubiquitous like soap or something, so not all stores may stock it, or they may only stock a couple of brands, depending on where you are. If you’re looking for specific American brands you may have to go to specific stores, or buy them by mailorder. Amazon and Rakuten both stock deodorants in abundance. See デオドラント・制汗剤 – パーソナルケア: ヘルス&ビューティー for the Amazon search page result for デオドラント. Here’s the search result page for “American deodorant” on Rakuten: 【楽天市場】アメリカ製 デオドラント の検索結果 – (標準順 ウィンドウショッピング):通販・インターネットショッピング

Deodorants as a product category have never really caught on in a huge way in Japan, probably for a couple of reasons. First, there’s a perception that it’s meant to cover up the odor rather than eliminate it, which goes rather against the idea that odor and dirt should be washed off frequently….
Another reason is, as far as anti-perspirants go, when faced with the typical sweltering summer that is experienced in most of Japan, chemical ones are pretty useless.

So instead of Deodorants a lot of time you’ll see people with cooling wipes. They look like wet naps and you’ll see people wipe the sweat away from underarms, upperbody, etc. The wipes also has an ingredient that will chemically cool you down. These are great for when have a chance to sit down or if you arrive at your destination which brings us to…

Have a Spare Shirt

Hypercolor shirts had a short life in Tokyo
Hypercolor shirts had a short life in Tokyo

Always carry a spare shirt.  One is to get you to work and the other to wear at work.  Nothing is worse that arriving to your office drenched in sweat only to have to sit in an AC room and you look like you’ve just stepped out of a wet T-shirt contest.  Bring a spare shirt!

Get a towel

Japanese summer survival
This is probably the most important of all, get a towel! Douglas Adams must have lived in Tokyo. When you watch movies of the deep American south you always see people dabbing their heads with a handkerchief, well Tokyo is just like the hot and humid south, except instead of a little itty bitty handkerchief that will get soaked in seconds you need a full on hand towel to carry with you, where ever you go.

There are high brand versions with cooling gel inside but all you really need is a large hand towel. Everyone who is relaxing in Tokyo will carry a nice sized white towel. Sometimes they will be simply hanging on the shoulders or tucked underneath their shirt giving the impression of a hunchback. Others, in some sort of towel origami, will construct towel hats to block that summer heat but most importantly carry a towel!

For other “How to … in Japan” guides, try these:

Big In Japan Japanese Bicycles Health Care In Japan Making friends in Japan hostess in Japan
How to become big in Japan How to cycle in Japan Getting the around the Japanese health care system Making Friends in Japan How not to be a hostess