Climate Change in Japan

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. 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 malted 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 weakly. She carefully took two thousand yen from her purse.

“Please, it was no trouble,” I insisted. 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.

35 Replies to “Climate Change in Japan”

  1. Hey Ken, thanks for another great post/update on some of the things that have changed in Japan more recently. I’ve been missing being able to travel to Japan so I’m super excited to learn I can just drive down to San Diego and get basically the same thing.

    1. Yep, squat in front of a La Jolla 7-Eleven slurping down some cup-noodle with chopsticks and it’ll feel just like you’re in Japan.

      1. I knew there were some 7-Elevens in Pacific Beach, but I had to check Google maps to see if there was one in La Jolla. Sure enough, there is one, just off of La Jolla Blvd. I guess that will be my vacation plans for this year, since I can’t get back to Japan. However, I get a feeling that I’d have a more authentic experience if I go to the 7-Eleven on Convoy Street instead. Afterwards, I can walk to Daiso and really try to convince myself I’m in Japan.

  2. Yep….it’s real for sure…when I arrived in Japan on a boat in 1876….well, it was 1994 I could go snowboarding in early November no problem. Tenjindaira, hakuba 47 and kagura mitsumata were regular haunts. Now the season even in Hokkaido starts in mid December if they are lucky…. The heat…bring it on…better than a keto diet…but the lack of snow??? My old motto about traveling in Japan ‘ no snow, no go’ is getting a bit impractical…

  3. I was in Shirakawa-go for the Winter Light Up festival in Jan 2020 and there was not a drop of snow in sight. The year previous they said there was 9 metres of snow. I seem to remember Australia was on fire at the same time (the country, and not from a shrimp on the bbq). Shit is getting real.

  4. I wonder if Japanese people are still fixated on moving to a house that is south facing. I remember that from my Japanese house hunting days. I think it was because the sunlight from the south was better for doing laundry or something. My last apartment was a corner unit facing southeast. It was like a bomb blast going off every summer morning at 4:30am. I bet they are. So, looking on the bright side, you can probably still get a north facing apartment for a bit of a bargain, and not have to boil quite as much. Oh, and one quick note. If you’re looking for pleasant summers and cold winters, move to Chicago.

    1. Oh yeah, south-facing is definitely still the coveted spot. So you can have a bright, sunny place that’s raging hot, or a dark, sad hovel with a livable temperature. What a choice.

      1. When I visited my friend in Meguro she said she’d picked the apartment because it was on the north(west) side of the building and didn’t bake in the morning, and had the bonus of being cheaper. Plus, a clear view of Mount Fuji! (When there’s no cloud)

        Hmmm. Forgotten what name I go by here, hope this is right….

        1. Your friend’s lucky. A lot of folks probably don’t realize Tokyo once had many fine views of Mount Fuji, before they were obscured by buildings and smog.

          Yeah, south-facing’s over rated. My apartment looks west and gets good sun, plus features a stunning view of several parking lots.

  5. Back in 2016 summer I cracked and decided to stop giving a crap, and regularly go about Osaka shirtless. It was funny how there was a change in the nature of the usual stare/avoid gaze from the locals, but I didn’t give a shit because it meant not drenching my work clothes from the ten minutes it took to walk to or from the train station.

    But I literally never saw anyone else doing this. I think the only non-festival-or-onsen times I saw Japanese man chest was twice at the beach, and once at a park. This sighting should seriously be added to the WHO climate change report that just came out.

    1. I’ll confess that as a runner I sometimes take off my shirt on country roads. Gotta keep those tan lines in check. That being said, I’m of the opinion that no person over the age of thirty should go about shirtless. That goes double for all those horrid Instagram mirror selfies. Please spare the world your six-packs and bulging pecs.

  6. I haven’t ever read this yet, but thank God I have something to clear my mind after last week’s atrocious guest post.

  7. Dude,
    I lived through that summer. It was bad. We had smoke for 2 months, dust covered everything, you couldn’t go outside and exercise as you breathed in so much soot and our great Prime Minister decided it was time to go on a family holiday to Hawaii. When he was bombed by the media his response was that it wasn’t his job to hold a hose.
    Fortunately for him, Corona came around and he became the national saviour (last year) but squandered that by not getting enough vaccines (Pfizer) and letting the advisory committee on vaccines to only allow that locally made vaccine which we have heaps of, to only be allowed to be used on those over the age of 60 due to 1 / 1,000,000 blood clot risk so we started our vaccination roll out behind even Japan.

    I’ve been in lock down for 9 weeks now and they reckon we may get out of it by late October, or early November.

    This is not the Japan lock down, it is being chased by police helicopters and drones and told to get back in your home of face a fine.

    Remember travel, we’ll I’d like to be able to leave my home for a start.

    Good post Ken, always like them

    1. Ken, we are thinking about coming to Japan in two years. Can you please tell me the best weather time to visit? More fall weather is my guess. We are going to go on a Disney tour, but we have no idea what time of year would work best for us. We don’t enjoy the heat, but my husband hates freezing… Somewhere in between… Lol. Thanks!

  8. I remember it being hot in Japan but I’m guessing it’s getting worse. We certainly hit records in the Pacific NW this year. I’m still fantasizing about moving back to Osaka or somewhere on Kyushu but maybe I should be fantasizing about moving to Aomori.

    1. Not sure a place with two meters of winter snow is a good choice either.

      I hate to say it, but I’m afraid we’re all going to have to start thinking about the regions of the earth that’ll remain livable twenty plus years from now, depending how old you and any progeny are. i probably wouldn’t buy a house in any of these Japanese spots: https://origami-book.com/column/course-en/13517

  9. I just talked to a lady from Hokkaido and she told me they never used to get typhoons up there and no rainy season either. Now they have both, although rainy season is currently only two weeks in June.
    They’re also starting to buy aircons now, wasn’t necessary before. In 2019 I went up there in May and a week before I went they had a heatwave with 35 degrees Celsius. In Hokkaido. In May!
    The drift ice is also coming later every year, now it arrives around the middle of February before it was in January.
    I know why I’m never in Japan between Middle of June and End of October… that is when they let me in…

    1. I used to (still do) say that if I ever were to move back to Japan it would have to be Aomori or Hokkaido.
      But maybe even that is now becoming too hot a place to live …

      By the way I found a video on Youtube just a few days ago explaining how the world would change with 3 – 4 global temperature increase. It’s really, really scary.
      Japan being a desert … not cool.

  10. Yeah, the summer here is scorching… the heat combined with the humidity is just near-death inducing. I try not to go out in it as much as possible but unfortunately that is not possible and so it’s just a horrible repetitive cycle of sweating, chafing, itching ad infinitum.

    I noticed that the previous post has since disappeared, I know there was some stuff in there which started a shitstorm (and I do wonder if the comments on this post will go the same way given the subject matter…) in the comments section but I kinda enjoyed it in a dark gloomy but realistic sense because it kinda resonated with me of how mundane and depressing things can easily become out here and how we, as human beings can fall into a cycle and become trapped, often by ourselves fairly easily.

    1. I’ll do my best to ensure what happened with the previous guest post (now gone but unfortunately not forgotten) doesn’t happen again.

      I agree it was gloomy yet realistic, and I was actually cool with that. Japan’s not always an easy place to live, and in that the article was honest. So while I was okay with the Japan bits, I wasn’t okay with the author using CoVID to advance a personal agenda. It was my fault for being overly accepting of opinions, even those which are ill-informed, and not taking responsibility for what gets published here. People have made tremendous sacrifices, many with their lives, and we’ve got to do everything possible to stop this tragic pandemic. Denial and praying ain’t gonna cut it.

      1. Mmmnn, quite a conundrum. I’m really not happy with the way the post turned out. My apologies for that; I should have provided more direction as an editor. And then the comments section…I try not to use the word “clusterfuck” too often, but Jeezus…

        I have enough Japan-induced PTSD—I’d hate to relive the same flaming car crash.

      2. The majority of the post was gloomy description of post-JET teaching life. There was a brief but highly reactive portion on a topic I wont mention. This led to a stream of comments..

        Anyways there’s more than one type of story. I could share my past year experience as an expat based out of my company-paid pad 10 minutes walk from Shibuya scramble. Teleworking from coffeeshops frequented by YouTuber wannabes. Getting out for a pint to the pubs tired of ‘strong requests to refrain from unnecessary outings’; meeting up with women weary of isolation and attired appropriately for the summer heat (which has returned today after a typhoon cooling break); and more.
        Basically as Ken has said, if you come to Japan with a budget and a plan, its an awesome place where fantasies come true. Without budget or plan, it can be a nightmare, I guess.

  11. Yeah, what happened with that? I was rationing myself, only reading posts slower than they appeared, and then one disappeared …

    No idea if it was controversial, or for what reason …

  12. I was at one of those big Shinto festivals in Saitama in August/September 2013 and the temperature reached the 40s. I had my phone out taking photos until it showed a temperature warning that couldn’t be dismissed until it cooled down! Massive respect to the people involved who still carried the shrine around in that heat.

    I saw you pulled last week’s guest post down. I hope the negative reaction doesn’t put you off trying other posts in the future! These things happen, with any luck the next one will be better received. In the meantime, I’ve sent you some beer money to help with the creative juices.

    1. Thanks very much for the beer money. I was going to underscore the importance of staying hydrated during this hot weather, and then the torrential rains started. Bloody climate change.

      Yeah, I’m still quite open to guests posts, from anyone who has experience with, and piercing insights into, Japan, beyond the predictable guidebook stuff.

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