How to stay cool in the summer, the Japanese way

Here are five ways that the Japanese have traditionally survived the miserably hot & humid summer months. Some actually work, and some rely on powers of imagination that this foreigner can only aspire to.



Goldfish at Art Aquarium
Yeah, goldfish languidly waving their fins in their cool, watery world supposedly have the power to cool you off, just by watching them. Events like Art Aquarium
Goldfish at Sumidagawa Aquarium in Asakusa
and special exhibits at regular aquariums pull in visitors by the droves in the summertime…
Goldfish in bags at Japanese summer festival in Edogawa
and there are goldfish festivals all over Japan where you can catch your own
Two young women in summer kimonos catching goldfish at summer festival in Edogawa
with a plastic bucket and a notoriously fickle paper net


Listen to ghost stories

Kyosai painting of skeleton playing shamisen
Ghost stories are supposed to literally “send a chill up your spine” so tales of ghosts and hauntings are traditionally told (and painted, here by Kyōsai) in the summertime


Stock up on wind chimes

Japanese furin painted glass wind chimes
In summertime, you can buy pretty little bells (called furin) that have paper wings on their clappers, so they give you a musical reminder to appreciate even the most miniscule breeze


Put away clothes that aren’t blue, green or purple

Young Japanese woman wearing summer yukata from Kimono Hime magazine
Wearing cool colors is supposed to put you in a cool frame of mind (although the traditional summer outfit of unlined cotton kimono and geta worn without socks helps too)
Selection of Japanese uchiwa summer fans at Shibuya Loft
And no summer outfit is complete without the go-to summertime fan called an uchiwa, which gets tucked into the back of your obi and doesn’t even have to be unfolded to deliver high-volume cooling


Surround yourself with mosquito punks

Mosquito punk holders at hardware store in Tokyo
Mosquitos are one of the less-cherished insects of summer, and unlike their screeching cicada cousins, their telltale whines are seldom celebrated with the same affection in haiku. These traditional mosquito punk holders are as much a symbol of summertime as goldfish (they’re only sold and used during the summer months) and if they don’t actually diminish the heat, they at least make it more bearable


Catch your own noodles

Catching nagashi somen noodles at Chaya Kado in Kamakura
Naturally, there are foods which can only be enjoyed in the hot and steamy Japanese summer, including nagashi sōmen (cold noodles dipped in a chilled savory sauce that you have to catch before you slurp)…
Japanese kakigori shave ice and vending truck at Edogawa goldfish festival
and kakigori, the snowiest shave ice you’ll ever eat, topped with syrup in traditional Japanese flavors (like green tea and melon), plus sweet red azuki beans or condensed milk
Cucumbers on a stick at festival in Narita
And last, but certainly not least, chilled cucumbers on a stick (which are also good for a few bawdy jokes to take your mind off the climbing mercury)

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Jonelle Patrick writes mystery novels set in Tokyo, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had

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