Sometimes it feels like I just imagined the whole thing. Thinking back, I remember a time when Japanese men wore dark suits, neckties, and leather shoes. Women wore short skirts and heels. That really happened, right?
Or did I just dream it? Because these days, the ties are gone. And on weekends, so are a lot of long pants too, replaced by cargo shorts, Teva flip-flops or, horror of horrors, Crocks. Women rush by in baggy, full-length skirts, black arm covers, and Darth Vader masks—dark plastic shields, like a sunglass lens for your whole face. I’m excited just to catch a glimpse of an ankle. And today—I honestly never thought I’d see this—two Japanese guys strolling through a crowded business district with no shirts on at all, just bare chested. I was like, holy shit, Japan’s become San Diego. I gotta try that. Although somebody’d surely stick me with tranquilizer gun and haul me off to Ueno Zoo. Is it possible to wax with duct tape? Let’s find out.
Climate Change in Japan is Real
Suffice to say, Japan is hot. Boiling, meltingly, drippingly hot. Pedestrians huddle at red lights in the shade of buildings to avoid the blistering sun. Ladies hold dark umbrellas above their heads, and sometimes men too. That’s gotta make your arms tired, even if they’re skinny.
Gone are the dainty Asian-style folding fans. Instead, cheap, handheld battery-powered fans are the new fashion accessory, along with cooling neck wraps and bottles of Pocari Sweat. Climate change in Japan is visceral. The heat is stunning, disorienting. Walking anywhere becomes a Saharan Expedition. Coat yourself with sunblock, carry lots of water and salt tablets, then leave at dawn. Bonus points for resembling Lawrence of Arabia.
What I Love About Japan
What I love about the nation is there are lots of small urban parks. And what I hate is they’re universally barren patches of dirt with a rusty slide and one decommissioned drinking fountain. Who wants free public water when you can buy plastic bottles from a vending machine for a dollar apiece? Screw your socialism; when capitalism wins, everybody wins! Wait, no, that’s communism. Hmm, anyway, let’s call that Problem One.
Problem Two is my apartment, which climbs steadily throughout the day to a toasty 36 Celsius. That’s 97 in real degrees. Now, I hate air conditioners, I really do. Give me fresh air and sunshine anytime. People call me Mr. Natural. Not to my face, of course, but I’m pretty sure once I leave the room. Yet after trailing pools of sweat from the sofa to the fridge for one more electrolyte-replenishing beverage, even Mr. Natural’s gotta call it a day and turn on the A/C.
Is there anybody who still denies global warming, or as it’s now called, “climate change”? Because that shit’s for real in Japan. And much as I hate to admit it, it’s become impossible to live here without air conditioning. So putting Problems One and Two together, wha’dya got? A world of increasing energy consumption and environmental pollution where only the wealthy can afford to survive. Perfect. I’ve still got a hundred and five dollars till payday.
Wealth in Japan
If you live in North America, I don’t know, maybe seventy bucks a month for electricity doesn’t seem like a lot, but I know pensioners in Japan living on six hundred dollars a month, total. That’s rent, food, everything.
I went by such a residence last week to drop off a dresser, because I’m generous like that, with furniture. It was a brutally hot day, and even with sunglasses, the glare from the road was blinding. Actually, the A/C in my ramshackle Japanese jalopy doesn’t work well either, so by the time I pulled up in front of the crumbling farmhouse, my sweat had soaked into the driver’s seat. Good thing I’d bought a giant plastic bottle of water at 7-Eleven. Inside the house, the doors and windows were wide open, with four apparently dead people strewn about tatami mats, in front of two fans blowing hot air.
“Aren’t you hot?” I asked. I’ve heard it said there’s no such thing as a stupid question. Well, apparently that’s wrong.
An old man in a diaper raised his head and stared at me. Then a grey-haired woman beside him slowly rose to her feet. “Thank you for bringing the dresser,” she said. She carefully took two thousand yen from her purse.
“Please, it was no trouble,” I said. But no amount of refusal would dissuade her, so I grudgingly took the cash. I still feel bad about that.
“Be careful not to get heat stroke,” she said.
If you’ve studied any Japanese at all, you’ve probably learned phrases like “konnichiwa” or “o-genki desuka.” Yeah, you can safely forget both of those. Because in summer, you’ll hear “Don’t get heat stroke” about a thousand times more often.
“You too,” I replied. The old man in the diaper waved as I left.
News in Japan
The news in Japan goes flood, landslide, typhoon, coral dying, flood, landslide. . . I find the repetition helpful for increasing my natural disaster vocabulary. See, I can find the bright side to anything, such is the old Seeroi optimism. Plus, the sakura haven’t bloomed this early in 1,200 years. Hooray, early flowers. Who doesn’t love that?
Yeah, climate change in Japan has come to stay. Japan’s freaking hot, and about to get a lot hotter. The good news is, there’s always winter. Then we can go back to bitching about how cold it is. God, I love the change of seasons.