Home Japan Sweat


by J. C. Greenway
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You can reach a point where you almost stop noticing or caring that you are bathed in sweat and have been ever since you reluctantly got dressed into ‘smart business wear’ at 11 o’clock that morning. From the last possible moment before you leave the house, when the air conditioning absolutely must, no question, be switched off, until the blissful one when the train doors glide open, it is simply a given that you will be drenched by every movement made. This is life at 37 degrees and humidity of 70%.

In such unaccustomed conditions, it is remarkable how little fuss the Northern European body makes towards its owner. You find yourself less troubled by thirst than you would be on a warm day at the beach back home, despite an over 10 degree temperature advantage. If not occupied with other pursuits, the mind may wander towards ice-cold showers or busy itself trying to recall the last time your fingers were so cold you had to blow on them for warmth, but since it is no good trying, as it is impossible to recall in this heat, physically it is stunning how quickly you adjust. So far, no fainting, heat stroke or anything so exotic has transpired.

Of course, one advantage we have over a warm day in England is utterly sensational air conditioning. Every home is equipped and the trains are like motorised refrigerators, similar to the ones that transport milk up the motorways, if equipped for passenger use. Workplaces used to be kept so cool that in 2005 the government introduced the concept of ‘Cool Biz’, to encourage Japanese businesspeople to remove a tie, jacket or jumper and turn the thermostat up a couple of notches, in the name of saving polar bears.

Yet you come to rely on this Frigidaire approach to living that the second it is threatened it brings home how reliant you have become on modern life and its advances. Arriving at work last month to discover that the air con was out-of-order and likely to remain so for some time, I was at first nonplussed but not overly alarmed. Seven hours later, with all essential moisture and a few 1,000 unessential-but-enjoyable toxins sweated out, leaving me feeling about as fragrant as an old sock and with a glow that was less ‘dewy’ and more ‘traffic-light red’, I was ready to call for an immediate canonisation, international festival day and lifelong pension rights for the descendants of the creator of air cooling devices. Oh so true that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone, as sang Joni Mitchell!

Another difference between my old hemisphere and the new one is that where most of you are a warm day wouldn’t necessarily linger once the sun had gone down. As soon as it was safely over the yardarm you could expect a cooling breeze to put in an appearance. Here there is no such soothing guarantee. The nights are as warm, often until long past 10 o’clock. It is a beautiful thing to wander home from the train after a late finish, sans coat or pullover, feeling the warm breeze over the arms, as wispy white clouds roll overhead like longboats heading out to sea. The cicadas sing so loud they can be heard over the music playing on your MP3 player and it seems incredible to hear the tales from the old hands of winter days where you awake to the sight of your own breath in the uninsulated bedrooms’ frozen atmosphere. Could they ever be true? It seems fantastic, more so to believe that they will be real in just a couple of months’ time. I hope that when they do arrive, I will be able to remember this feeling of blood boiling, in order to keep the extremities provisioned.

Thankfully, since I wrote this the temperature has dropped to an almost-chilly 22 degrees. Although Japan is now more like Widnes than Ouagadougou, I thought I would post it to remind me when my toes are dropping off in the cold

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1 comment

James 1 October 2010 - 7:32 pm

Sorry I missed your leaving do, but I was off to Thailand the very next day and thought better of it – I would probably have got very drunk.
And it is these weather conditions you allude to that sent me out there; I love the accompanying aromas they induce.


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