Japan and Tokyo are both in a temperate climate zone, but did you know that the summer heat can get quite intense? To everyone who currently is or plans on traveling to Japan during July, August, and September, there are 10 things about “Summer in Japan” that you need to know. Here, get tips on how to cope with the heat, what to do see and do during summer, and fun facts and tips about Tokyo’s heat!
1. Beware of Heat Stroke! Tokyo’s Hottest Days, Temperature, and Humidity
In Japan, the days on which the temperature climbs above 30°C/86°F are called manatsubi (“midsummer days”), and days with temperatures over 35°C/95°F are called mōshobi (“sweltering days”). According to the data of 2017 by the Japan Meteorological Agency, Tokyo’s average temperature is 27.3°C/81.1°F in July, and 26.4°C/79.5°F in August. Furthermore, there are 42 “midsummer days” in these two months and two “sweltering days.”
The factor that really makes Tokyo’s heat almost unbearable is the humidity, however. In 2017, the average humidity was 78% in July and 83% in August. You’ll also find numbers like these in tropical areas, such as Thailand’s Bangkok. And with the heat index, it can feel almost as though you’ll soon melt!
Tall buildings seem to rise to the sky as dense as a forest in large cities such as Tokyo, and the ground is covered in asphalt and concrete. That contributes to high temperatures at ground level. On the other hand, Japan is thoroughly air-conditioned inside buildings of all sorts, so going inside might send down a chill down your spine. The air conditioning dries your sweat and suddenly, you’re in danger of catching a summer cold. Because of that, you should carry a small towel with you to wipe off your sweat and walk in the shade while staying hydrated and replacing the salts and minerals your body sweats out. Protect yourself against heat strokes!
2. How to Survive Hot and Humid Nights
While few people are strangers to intense summer heat, a characteristic of Tokyo is that it barely cools down after the sun has set, which is called nettaiya (“tropical night”). Nights in which the temperatures do not fall below 25°C/77°F earn that notorious title. While this phenomenon is most prominent in Japan’s southwest, the concrete jungle of Tokyo and its radiating asphalt and concrete has its own share of hot, humid nights. It is said that Tokyo and other major cities around the country experience between 27 and 28 of these tropical nights per year. People who aren’t used to a climate like that will likely find themselves having issues sleeping – and keeping on the air conditioning all night isn’t great for your health, either. Remedies come in the form of cooling sprays and sheets commonly found at drug stores, and fans set to weak and rotating also help to fight the heat.
Various festivals and fireworks are held during Japan’s summer nights, unforgettable experiences that make for a magical evening! And yet, the many people attending make the air even warmer... to not suddenly feel dizzy while enjoying a Japanese summer event, make sure to stay hydrated just like during the day!
3. The Strange Sights of Summer in Tokyo
As you explore Tokyo during the summertime, there’s one particular thing that you will likely raise an eyebrow at: Japanese people in suits. To many, it’s a mystery as to why and how office workers walk around on ridiculously hot days with jacket, shirt, and tie – they’re clearly sweating! This is somewhat of a modern tradition that has been handed down from worker to worker because of the strong conception of “office = suit & tie.” In recent years, a style called “Cool Biz” has become prominent as an effort to save energy, allowing people to leave the tie at home and wear short-sleeved shirts. Nonetheless, you’ll still spot a good deal of proper suits on the hot streets.
Women are part of this as well, even if a little different. A lot of Japanese women combine their short-sleeved shirts with arm covers all the way down to their wrists and walk under a parasol. “Fair skin” is a rather ancient beauty standard in Japan, so people will go to great lengths to prevent sunburn and shield their skin from UV rays. That’s also why makeup and foundation with UV protection are so popular. Even at the pool or beach, there are some people wearing long sleeves – it’s a sight that often puzzles tourists.
4. Summer Typhoon! What to Do?
Summer in Japan also means typhoon season. A typhoon is a tropical cyclone that develops in the northwest Pacific Ocean (called the Northwestern Pacific Basin) and brings strong wind, gale, and heavy rain as it moves northward. Every year, there are about 40 such typhoons, with most of them developing between July and September. Okinawa and Kyushu are most often hit by the typhoons that do approach the Japanese mainland, but Tokyo and Osaka also experience their fair share of cyclones. If there is a typhoon, its path, strength, and so on is extensively covered by the weather forecast. Should you be unlucky enough to cross the path of one while you’re in Japan, do avoid going outside.
Typhoons often bring heavy rain and strong wind even before it hits. Cancel any outdoor activities such as mountain climbing, visiting the beach, or anything on or close to a river. Public transport may also be delayed or stopped entirely and air service may be canceled.
5. Guerilla Rainstorms – Beware of Sudden Showers!
Here’s yet another weather phenomenon typical for Japanese summers: “Guerilla rainstorms.” It describes sudden, almost unpredictable downpours that bring a large amount of rain to a small, local area. These rainstorms are known to cause quite a bit of damage with flooding and landslides, as rivers rapidly rise. While carrying a folding umbrella will protect you from any other kind of sudden rain, it is almost useless against Guerilla rainstorms because the amount of water is just too much to handle. Instead, flee indoors as soon as the downpour starts, to the next best shop, café, or someplace similar. If you’re at a river or the sea, you might find yourself stranded on a sandbank – keep an eye on both the clouds and the water level. If there’s any sign of rain, quickly move away from bodies of water.
6. Summer Relaxation, the Traditional Way!
Of course, Japanese people had to deal with summer heat long before air-conditioning was a thing, and there are numerous traditional customs around staying cool. A prominent example is the folding fan, still used to cool and refresh oneself nowadays. This traditional tool isn’t only handy, it also comes in various colors and designs and thus makes for a wonderful memento of your trip!
At Japanese summer fireworks, a lot of people wear yukata, a cotton garment originally worn right after a both. Over time, people started wearing it to summer events and now it is the iconic traditional outfit for fireworks and festivals. A lot of shops around sightseeing spots or hot springs offer yukata rental, allowing you to experience the beautiful “kimono light” for yourself.
If you hear a sweet tinkling and jingling as you walk along Tokyo’s summer streets, you’ve come across another seasonal tradition. The fūrin is Japan’s wind chime. The chime has provided the “soundtrack” to Japan’s summer since centuries.
The Japanese of old also knew how to cool the air without electricity. In the mornings and evenings, people would pour water in front of their houses and on the cobblestone streets. That custom is called uchimizu and done to cool the area and to keep down dust.
And do you know the mosquito coil, the spiral-shaped, insect-repelling incense? That was invented in Japan and the distinctive shape and aroma of the handy goodie are closely tied to the hot summer months.
7. Delicious Summer Food – Stamina with Cold Noodles and Eel!
When it comes to Japanese summer food, one of the most iconic dishes is sōmen. This term refers to ultra-thin noodles made from wheat flour which are enjoyed with a cold, soy sauce-based sauce. Ingredients such as leek, mioga, (Japanese ginger), or white sesame are added as desired. An extra-fun way to eat this cool dish is called nagashi-sōmen or “flowing noodles.” That name is rather literal, as the noodles literally flow down a bamboo slide and you have to catch them with your chopsticks.
Zaru-soba and zaru-udon provide a similar cool noodle experience and are equally popular summer dishes. Hiyashi-chūka also falls in that category, referring to a dish of ramen noodles with cold broth, cucumber, ham, and fried egg. Slightly sour sauce makes for a refreshing taste!
Then there’ a category called “stamina cuisine,” dishes made to charge your battery and fight against summer sluggishness. Una-don or eel bowl is a famous example, tickling your tongue with grilled eel in a thick, savory sauce on top of rice. Specialty restaurants serve it throughout the year, while others feature una-don as a summer-only dish.
Of course, Japanese classics such as sushi and sashimi are also available throughout the summer, but do pay extra attention to the appearance and smell inside a restaurant. The heat makes raw fish go bad more easily, so clean and fresh is key more than ever!
8. How to Make the Most Out of the Heat!
Tokyo’s summer may be hot, but it also brings its own selection of fun activities! Great spots to find such activities are the Okutama/Ōme area (about 90 minutes by train from Shinjuku Station) and its Tama River in west Tokyo, as well as the Chichibu-Nagatoro area (2 hours by train from Ikebukuro Station) in northwest Saitama. There, exciting kayaking and river rafting await to keep you cool with plenty of fun and adrenaline!
In Japan, bathing in the ocean is also always an option, alongside savoring seafood cuisine at the Izu Peninsula spanning Kanagawa and Shizuoka Prefectures. Chiba’s Bōsō Peninsula also beckons with beaches and delightful food!
Besides that, Mount Fuji’s climbing season starts in July until early September. For the extra adventurous people, conquering the peak of Japan’s most famous mountain is a stunning 2-day activity.
Okutama/Ōme area: about 90 minutes from Shinjuku Station to Mitake Station via JR Chūō Line/ Ōme Line.
Chichibu/Nagatoro area: about 60 minutes from Ikebukuro Station to Seibu Chichibu Station via Seibu Ikebukuro Line. Then a 10-minute ride from Ohanabatake Station (accessible via foot from Seibu Chichibu Station) on the Chichibu Railway.
Izu Peninsula: about 35 minutes from Tokyo Station to Atami Station via the Tōkaidō Shinkansen, then another 50 minutes via Kodama (train).
Bōsō Peninsula: about 1 hour 30 minutes from Shinjuku Station to Kisarazu Station via JR Chūō-Sōbu Line or Uchibō Line, then another 3 hours to Tateyama Station.
Mount Fuji: about 2 to 2 hours 30 minutes from Shinjuku Station to Fujisan Station via Fujikyuko (train service).
9. Perfect Summer Daytrip Spots Around Tokyo!
Despite all efforts and activities, you might be overcome with the urge to just flee from Tokyo’s crushing summer heat. Luckily, there are plenty of beautiful spots around the capital that only take between 2 and 3 hours to reach! One of the most prominent examples is Karuizawa, a resort area on Nagano Prefecture. The average temperature in July and August is around 20°C/68°F, reaching about 24 to 26°C/72 to 79°F at max. Compared to Tokyo, it’s a refreshing summer paradise!
Kiyosato or the Fuji Five Lakes in Yamanashi Prefecture are also great examples for summer escapes for Tokyoites, as are the Nasu Highlands in Tochigi Prefecture.
Karuizawa: about 1 hour from Tokyo Station to Karuizawa Station via JR Hokuriku Shinkansen.
Kiyosato: about 3 hours from Tokyo Station to Karuizawa Station via JR Hokuriku Shinkansen, Koumi Line.
Fuji Five Lakes: about 2 to 2 hours 30 minutes from Shinjuku Station to Kawaguchiko Station via Fujikyuko (train service).
nasu Highlands: about 1 hour 10 minutes from Tokyo Station to Nasushiobara Station via JR Hokuriku Shinkansen.
10. Savor Japan’s Many Summer Events!
There are a plethora of fun, unique, and exciting events throughout Japan’s summer that’ll make you forget about the heat! Prominent examples are the Asakusa Samba Carnival and the Sumidagawa Fireworks, but there is much and more to discover all around Tokyo and its surroundings! Big and small, traditional and modern – put on your kimono and join the Obon Dance or the local Tanabata Festival!
Hot and Humid but Endless Fun!
Japan is infamous for its hot, humid summer during which even nighttime does not ease the heat. However, if you know how to deal with the weather, you won’t just be able to survive a Japanese summer like a boss but also make the most out of it! Always keep a bottle of water with you and head out to the beach, join a traditional festival, and indulge in delectable dishes for wonderful Japanese summer memories!
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