It’s December! The first snow has fallen in the mountains, the last of the summer mosquitos are dying (thank god) and everyone in Gunma is setting up their kotatsu, refilling their kerosene and buying this season’s most fashionable puffy down jackets. It’s time to brace yourself for the long dark winter ahead.
As we head into spring, the air is becoming warmer, flowers are beginning to bud and nature is awakening. I am finally feeling more cheerful and yearning to be outside. Spring is one of my favorite times of year precisely for these reasons, and it is the perfect time to visit the many breathtaking, calming and mystical temples and shrines around Japan. (more…)
In the mountainous north of Gunma is the scenic Tone District (利根郡). With Numata City (沼田市), it is home to some of Gunma’s most famous tourist locations and activities. Further divided into one town (Minakami) and three villages (Katashina, Kawaba and Showa), Tone is famous for its beautiful scenery, adventure sports, powder snow, and hot springs. In fact, Tone hosts two large GAJET events: the summer canyoning event, and the winter ski and snowboard trip. (more…)
So maybe you got some chocolates on Valentine’s Day from the ladies in the office… pretty sweet deal, right? Yes, but did you know you are expected to return that favor exactly one month later? (more…)
Have you been feeling a little off lately? Sure, the dreaded in-fu-ru-en-za has been going around, but I mean something else entirely—something many people ignore: mental health. If you haven’t been yourself recently, you might even be stuck in the grips of stage two culture shock. (more…)
For those who may not know, I was born and raised in sunny San Diego, California, which is famous for its year-round Mediterranean climate (average 13ºC–22ºC throughout the year). Though I spent my university years in a slightly colder and damper Berkeley, California, it was still a shock to my system when temperatures began to fluctuate in the fall of my first year on JET. (more…)
Suffering separation anxiety when parted from your kotatsu? Sub-zero apartments and icy bike rides to school mean Gunma’s cold is already biting. Without wanting to sound like a doom-monger, the worst of the winter is yet to come! Meet the cold head-on and make your pad a hot-haven… (more…)
Has your kitchen turned into an oven? Your living room into a sauna? And your bedroom into a hot yoga studio? If yes, it’s likely you’re living in the middle of Japan during the middle of summer. And, oh yeah, in the middle of an energy crisis.
It’s also likely you’re being great gaikokujin and practicing setsuden (energy saving). If so, otsukare! It has already been quite a hot one, and if it’s going to be anything like last year, it won’t be letting up much until the end of September.
With no escaping the extreme heat and humidity, it comes down to ‘adapt or die’, and I have decided to adapt. I’ve gone out and purchased several of those ‘coo-lu’ and ‘fu-re-shu’ products and tried them out. Here’s my guide to helping you stay sane and sweat-free (no promises) this summer.
Cool in the shower and bath
Ice shampoo – This was the first of my summer purchases after going to the hairdresser to get a lighter haircut for the hot weather. I didn’t actually know that he was using a ‘summer shampoo’ (containing menthol) until my head felt like it was an ice cube. It was the strangest sensation ever and enough to make me buy it at a steep 1,500 yen. Since then, I’ve seen much cheaper similar shampoos around. Most common is the Sea Breeze brand shampoo.
Shower body wash – I’ve bought two of the several cooling body washes out there; Sea Breeze and Johnson & Johnson’s Fresh. They both have a similar effect as the cooling shampoo, giving your skin a tingling sensation and keep it a bit cooler. But the Sea Breeze wash feels stronger, where as J&J is gentler.
Cool bath – This may sound like a paradox, but it’s true! Simply draw a bath like usual and drop a ‘cool’ bath bomb in. Surprisingly enough, you can get in without feeling completely overheated. It doesn’t necessarily cool you down any, but it is quite comfortable. So if you were missing having a regular bath, go pick up some of these.
Body lotion – Whether you took a shower or bath, once you’re out, you can keep the cool tingling sensation going with this body lotion. It’s really nice and light, and feels especially refreshing and cool because I keep it in the fridge. Once again, I went with J&J for this, because I have sensitive skin, but I am sure there are other good ones out there.
As much as you can, keep your clothing lightweight & loose.
If you don’t like that style, head down to Uniqlo and buy some sarafine or silk dry shirts to put underneath whatever you are wearing.
If you find that neither of those options work and you still sweat through everything, try to stick with dark materials or patterns, so at least it doesn’t show.
Be cool at school, keep on hand…
A mini towel – Some teachers wear these around their necks all day. Feel free to join that trend, or at least keep it at your desk to have between classes.
A pack of ‘cool’ wipes – If you need to refresh between classes.
Some cool gel pads – Use these under your shirt for specific hot spots, like the small of your back.
Sea Breeze spray – For an all over cool down.
A water bottle – To stay hydrated!
An extra shirt – Just in case.
Be cool out & about, don’t leave the house without…
Sunscreen – It may be expensive in Japan, but it is so totally worth it to keep your skin safe. Having a burn will just make your summer that much hotter.
A hat – To protect your head from burning and give a bit of shade.
A sensu (hand-held fan) – You can pick up these for 100 yen at the Daiso so you have them wherever you are. They’re one of Japan’s best inventions to keep you cool in the summer.
A towel – For the lovely perspiration you are likely to collect throughout the day.
Bed gel pad – This ‘cool product’ is my one hesitation in recommending. It’s great when the temperature dips a little bit, because it becomes very cool and stays cool even the temperature rises again, so it’s great to sleep on. However, if it’s back-to-back hot days (which are common), this 3,000 yen purchase doesn’t help at all. Sometimes even feeling like a hot gel…
Pillow gel pad – This gel product is a little better because you can keep it in the fridge or freezer and it does keep your head quite cool almost all night long. It costs around 1,500 yen at most stores.
Neck gel pad – This is the cheapest product (200-500 yen) and is definitely worth it. Unfortunately, it does not last throughout the night (resulting in a hot gel around your neck if you leave it on), but it is great to put on right before bed or as soon as you wake up.
Last Cool Tips
Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and Pocari Sweat or Aquarius if you are sweating excessively.
Keep some aloe vera around in case you do get a bit too much sun.
Get some baby powder if you’ve developed the common I-can’t-believe-I’m-allergic-to-my-own-sweat heat rash. I have not tried it, but it was recommended by my JTE.
Eat light, cool foods – salad, cold udon/soba/ramen – because heavy, hot foods only add heat to your body.
After reading this article, get away from your computer! It’s only creating more heat.
Finally, and most importantly, don’t give in to the ‘chooo atsui!’ mentality. Of course, it’s nice to bond with your teachers over a common burden, but if you think about how hot it is, it will only make it worse. Embrace the heat! Because soon enough we’ll be in to Japan’s extremely cold weather, complaining about that…