Category: Guides

Home / Category: Guides

Surviving a Gunma Winter

December 18, 2013 | Guides | 2 Comments

ashly shanbackFor 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…)

A Guide to the JLPT

September 2, 2013 | Guides | 2 Comments

JLPT Application Information 2011Twice a year, hundreds of thousands of Japanese-studying hopefuls apply for the ever-challenging Japanese language self-evaluation test—the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). (more…)

Combat the cold – Winter proof your home

December 27, 2011 | Guides | No Comments

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…)

Kechi Japan

September 5, 2011 | Guides | 1 Comment


Whether you’re a new ALT kitting out your first Japanese home, or a Gunma veteran who spent the summer gallivanting around Asia, chances are your bank balance took a hit this summer. (more…)

So unhappy to meet you

August 9, 2011 | Guides | 1 Comment

I must confess my stupidity. During my first 12 months in Japan I have been confusing the Japanese emoticon for ‘smiley’ with the one for ‘angry face’. It suddenly dawned on me, with a cold chill of realisation, that every time I emailed a new friend for the first time, or made a plan to meet up at the weekend, or sent an SMS to one of the teachers at my school, I’ve done it with a dirty look.


I’m melting! I’m melting!

July 28, 2011 | Guides | 3 Comments


Staying cool in the land of the sizzling sun

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

Japanese SunIce 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.

Cool clothing

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.

Cool Sleeping

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

Cat SunDrink 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…

Keep cool!

Yatta! My Yukata!

July 26, 2011 | Guides | No Comments

Photo by Andy Siriapismai
Summer festival season is upon us. For many Japanese people it means garnishing portable shrines and dusting off traditional costumes to parade through town. For all people it means enjoying fun in the sun, food stalls and fireworks. Nothing tops off the festival season better than doing it in style! (more…)