You may or may not know much about the weather here in Japan, so allow me to tell you – it is extremely, uncomfortably, unrelentingly hot and humid. People talk about how hot hell is, but you know what? No one ever mentions humidity when talking about hell. If there’s no humidity there, frankly I’m not as worried about going there now, because I have already experienced summer in Japan.
I jest, but truthfully – it is very sweaty here. And what perhaps makes it worse is the fact that you are expected to dress much nicer here than at home. In LA, I often wore flip flops and tank tops to work during the summer months. Here, though it is the end of July, the majority of people here are wearing business suits on any given weekday – sometimes even with a jacket! The rest are usually wearing nice dresses and heels, or school uniforms, or sometimes teenage hip-hop gear. Because I am an English teacher now, I am usually in with the suit crowd. And let me tell you, there is nothing worse than being sweaty in your nice blouses and crisp business skirts. Oh, and did I mention that I have to wear pantyhose? Suuuuper sweaty. I often arrive to work drenched and exhausted and have to drink a whole bottle of water just to feel normal again.
Recently there was a nation-wide initiative called “Cool Biz” implemented for the summer. The government wants people to conserve electricity to avoid blackouts due to the struggling nuclear reactor at Fukushima. So, to compensate for asking everyone to keep the A/C temp rather warm, they promoted a country-wide (or at least Tokyo-wide) relaxed dress code which allows people to forgo their jackets at work and just wear short sleeved shirts or blouses. This is, of course, awesome, but I reeeeeeally wish we could lose the pantyhose as well. As an additional energy saving measure, many companies switched their employees’ off days from the weekend to weekdays to spread out their electricity use to non-peak days and times.
Though there are parts of the U.S. which are as hot and sticky as Japan (I’m looking at you Florida), most of us are normally inside our cars or homes or buildings, and rarely out walking in it for any length of time. Even when we are, the Japanese protect themselves from the heat very differently than we do in a lot of ways. One example is the carrying of umbrellas on sunny days. If you do this in the US, people look at you like you must think you are Mary Poppins. But here, it is very, very common, and actually not such a bad idea. Why not carry a little shade with you as you go along? I really only see women doing it, but it is quite frequent. Americans are very interested in protecting their skin from the sun, what with cancer and wrinkles and so forth, but here they choose to do it in different ways. Sunscreen IS readily available here, but for whatever reason, the Japanese seem to prefer covering their skin with the aforementioned umbrellas, long sleeves, and even gloves! I rarely see people wearing sunglasses here, but the hat section in department stores is huge. Do they even sell hats in US department stores anymore? This is maybe one reason why we often see pictures of young Japanese children wearing adorable little hats -like in this picture:
One thing that truly baffles me here is that you will frequently see women wearing detachable sleeves that you roll on like leg warmers – in the summer. WHY on earth someone would want to add more clothing to themselves in 90 degree heat and humidity you can almost swim in is beyond me, but here is photographic evidence:
I asked a Japanese co-worker about the sleeves. I suspected there was a cultural bias against darker skin, because I had heard that long ago Asian cultures regarded darker skin as the mark of someone who was poorer and therefore worked hard outdoors in the fields. I see an awful lot of “whitening” creams in the drugstore beauty aisles, and that concerned me. However, he said all of this extra covering was mainly to avoid aging your skin and getting wrinkles and age spots – the whitening creams being there to get rid of the ones you’ve already got. Pretty much par for the course in the US as well. Nobody wants to look old!