filed in Japan on Jul.23, 2008
I’d had fair warning that Japan was a toasty place in July, but holy crap, I had no idea.
Japan can best be described in three words: balls ass hot.
The heat is absolutely relentless. Never have I sweated so much in my entire life. I’m talking gallons here. My shirt is completely soaked through within minutes of stepping outside — and that’s when I’m walking at a leisurely pace in the shade.
It’s mostly because of the humidity. Japan’s air feels like a blast of steam coming out of a teapot. That is, if there were ten zillion teapots at a constant rolling boil surrounding your body on all sides. Oh, and you’re inside of a volcano, chugging Tabasco sauce and wearing snowpants.
No matter what temperature it is outside, the air is always at least 80% saturated, and the highs since we’ve arrived have generally been in the range of 30 – 39 degrees Celcius, with the sun relentlessly beating down. When I see the forecast in the morning, I’m not sure whether I should laugh at my predicament or cry in self pity. Sometimes I do both. It’s that unbearable.
But, the curious thing to me is that the Japanese seem to be completely unaffected by the heat.
When I’m melting in the ungodly sauna that is Japan, to the point where I could boil an egg on my forehead, my shirt is wet enough to qualify as the next Great Lake, and I can feel the individual streams flowing from my pores, collecting into drops and cascading off the tip of my nose like Niagara Falls – the Japanese don’t even break a sweat.
Merrily, they stroll along, with a jump in their step and a smile on their face, sveltely avoiding the enormous puddles of sweat I’ve left behind on every sidewalk I pass over.
And they do it wearing long pants, long sleeve shirts – and, in the case of the construction workers, jumpsuits. Aside from the super short shorts that Japanese schoolgirls wear, nearly everyone I see in Japan wears long pants in the summer. Depending on the profession, lots of people wear long-sleeve shirts no matter the temperature, particularly businessmen. All of the manual laborers wear thick, uniformed jumpsuits, with the cuffs velcroed tight (probably to minimize airflow), along with work gloves and boots, and topped off with colorful plastic helmets. I can’t imagine how ludicrously hot those get-ups must be…but the Japanese workers don’t show even the mildest symptoms of heatstroke, let alone discomfort. And I’m about to collapse wearing an airy t-shirt and a pair of light shorts.
To add insult to injury, the Japanese hardly drink any water. Sure, there are vending machines everywhere — everywhere — selling all manner of bottled drink. But when you order a meal of any size in Japan, the cup you are given is only slightly larger than a thimble. And usually, three quarters of its volume are filled with ice…or air, because they don’t fill it all the way. Apparently, the custom in Japan, until recently, was not to drink anything while eating. Well, things certainly haven’t changed.
I mean, look at the size of the water cup served with this meal:
And it wasn’t even full.
Sure, you can ask for a refill, and sure, the restaurant workers will gladly oblige — but generally I would need about 50 refills to quench my thirst, and I feel self-conscious asking for more water after my fifth glass (or should I say, thimble-full).
Even the cups at McDonald’s are tiny…the drink size with the largest of Extra Value meals is equal to the children’ small size in America.
Being a big, thirsty American, raised on 72-ounce mega tubs of Pepsi from the local gas station, I spend every waking moment in Japan insatiably parched, yearning for my next fix like a crack addict gone cold turkey. I stare longingly at every vending machine I walk past, dreaming of the carbonated goodness held within. (And since I walk past approximately 1000 vending machines an hour, that’s how I spend the majority of my time.)
I can’t help but think that this summer’s heat is some kind of aberration, because there is no way that the Japanese could have developed such an advanced and prosperous society if it was always this balls ass hot outside. If I lived in ancient Japan, I would have just sat there in the shade, chugging down water until I died of heatstroke. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’d do that today if it weren’t for man’s greatest invention since the wheel: air conditioning.