Sweatiquette! Part 2: arm guards to onsen, 8 more ways to survive Japan’s steamy summer

This is part two of a three-part series called Sweatiquette! It’s all about ways to beat the heat during a Japanese summer including some etiquette tips. Thanks for reading!

Did you miss Part 1 – Six ways to deal with sweat during a Japanese summer?

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Last week, Edmonton and Calgary were hot, hot, hot! Temperatures rose past +30 Celsius, which is pretty toasty for late June in Alberta. But it really wasn’t that bad because, after all, it was a ***dry*** heat.

Have you heard of this before? This would be the opposite of a wet heat, although I’ve never heard anyone say that. People would just say it’s humid, sticky, too hot, yucky, ick, etc. 

But a dry heat is special. The temperature keeps rising and you are a big ol’ loaf of bread sitting in an oven with the door locked tight. An angry furnace blasts you with hot air, but for us cold weather folk used to -25 Celsius in the winter, it’s the wrong season.

Alberta is no desert (except for the badlands) but man, does it ever feel like one in the summer, especially on those über dry heat days.

Your throat dries up <ack ack>, your lips crack and peel off like a bad sunburn (eww), and your cheeks turn bright red. And you get grumpy. Really grumpy.

But it’s seriously not that bad because, say it with me now, it’s a dry heat. 

silt filled run off, Alberta, Canada

cooling off beside a glacier-fed, silt-filled gushing creek in Lake Louise, Alberta

8 more ways to sweat with grace in Japan

Sorry dry heat fans, Japan will have none of that. It’s all sticky, “mushi atsui” (a fantastic Japanese phrase to mean super, duper, steamy hot) all. the. time.

Part 1 of this three-part series introduced strategies to sweat like a pro. Here are eight more from the common sense to the more unusual.

#7 – Arm guards

Are you puzzled? Well, imagine something just like it sounds. Long cloth tubes for your lower arms. Elastic at the wrist and upper arm hold them in place.

It’s important not to skimp when covering up so dig out a long-sleeved shirt and then pull those arm guards over top to make sure no skin is left exposed.

Women of all ages wear these, even in the city. Guards are available at 100 yen shops, clothing and department stores and home centres. They come in different patterns and materials including faux lace.

#8 – Sunglasses

When I lived in Japan, a new boss balked when he saw a picture of me in shades.

He told me that only yakuza wore them. “Japanese mafia” was the most consistent translation of yakuza I originally heard. I sighed and kept silent, waiting to see if there would be any repercussions.

On the first day of work, senior staff were visibly relieved when I showed up sans shades but the experience left me feeling odd.

However, like the increase of credit cards, more people seem to be wearing sunglasses in Japan. Maybe the sunlight is more intense? Maybe it’s trendy? Maybe I started the trend? If you know or have an idea, please comment.

wearing sunglasses

Cool cats in Hikawadai, Tokyo

#9 – Konbini or Convenience Stores

When you are sweaty, cranky, and unable to stand the heat one second longer, dash inside the nearest konbini for some cold air, a drink and a toilet stop.

Employees will not ask you to leave, even if you stay awhile. The toilets are free and it’s rare to find one that isn’t super clean.

Stores are only so big but that hasn’t stopped Hitoshi and I from spending a good hour looking at every last product, simply for some relief.

And please don’t forget to stop at the ice cream section! The top three treats in my books are Parm, Coolish, and Pino (in that order).

#10 – Public Transportation

Hitoshi and I love to walk wherever we are. It allows us to scamper down side streets, stop and go when and where we wish and travel at whatever pace suits the day.

I also refuse to take a bus for a block. Why pay if I can walk? Taking the bus is plain wimpy.

Visiting Japan straddling July and August was my breaking point.

Limp and unable to stand the thick, soupy heat for even one block in Fukuoka, I despaired. How would we be able to see the city if I could not last 3 minutes without becoming a whiny mess?

After some pouting and calculating of our travel budget in my head, I relented. 

We ended up buying daily passes for public transportation wherever we could and traded a little freedom of movement for air-conditioning. These moments were some of the best parts of the trip. (Wimp status proudly accepted.)

inside an old Japanese bus

on the way to Dakigaeri Gorge near Kakunodate, Akita

#11 – Water

This is obvious. Drink water and stay alive.

But do you know where to find free drinking water? My favorite spots are department store bathrooms. Almost always, a water fountain will be just outside. The water is cold, delicious and welcome.

Many parks also have water fountains.

So do train and subway stations. Sometimes they are on the platforms. If you’re a real disaster, you can have a mini sponge bath after your drink at the nearby sink.

#12 – Kakigori or shaved ice

If you grew up in Canada or the US (or maybe elsewhere?), did you have (or envy someone who had) the Snoopy Sno-cone Machine? (Snoopy is the adorable dog from the Peanuts comics by Charles M. Schulz.)

The machine was a simple gadget meant for kids. White, plastic and in the shape of Snoopy’s doghouse, the best part was the dangerous circular ice shaver inside.

Throw ice cubes in the top (of Snoopy’s house), turn the red handle, and make a ridiculous racket creating glorious slushy bits. Squeeze obnoxiously colored liquid sugar syrup on top and you’ve got a brain freeze on the way. 

In the Japanese version, a big block of ice is shaved by hand or with a crank or electric machine into a cup or bowl. The bowl version can get over-the-top huge, like a mini Mount Fuji! 

Syrup is then poured on top, just like the Snoopy Sno-cone version. I recommend strawberry or ichigo.

shaved ice dessert

Kakigori (shaved ice), Kumamoto Castle (Credit: Hitoshi)

Cradle the ice in your hands and eat it as quickly as it melts! It’s guaranteed to send a shiver down your spine.

#13 – Aburatoridami or oil blotting papers

Does your forehead compete with any nearby shiny things? Don’t worry. You’re in good company. And oil blotting papers could be your new best friend.

blotting papers

blotting papers to absorb sweat and oil from your face

They work pretty well for absorbing light sweat and are easily available. I bought the Hello Kitty ones in the picture from the 100 Yen store.

Can men use them? Of course! Anyone can and people use them all year round.

#14 – Onsen (hot springs) or ofuro (a bath)

How sitting in super heated water can cool you down when you’re already melting inside is verging on weird. But it surprisingly works. It really does!

How about you? What do you do to stay cool wherever you are? Have you tried any of these tips?


* * * * * * * * * *

Want more? Head on over to part 3 – “For when my sweat is sweating” or if you missed it, back to part 1!

29 thoughts on “Sweatiquette! Part 2: arm guards to onsen, 8 more ways to survive Japan’s steamy summer

  1. I find it easier to cope with dry heat than with humidity. Visiting Malaysia and Singapore was especially hard for us. We would love to explore more other countries, but we have to think about the best period to go !

    • I hear you! Dry heat has its advantages. The whole “dry heat” thing is a big joke for me here along with “dry cold”. People here try and psychologically appease themselves with these types of terms. 😀
      And me, too. I haven’t been to Malaysia but Singapore was really tough. I was completely exhausted after such a short time from the heat. I’d never experienced anything like that before.
      Then again, people showing up in Alberta who had never experienced super cold winter, like my husband and some exchange students I worked with years ago during uni, were convinced they’d die if they went outside. 😀

  2. #12 sounds like an alternate slushy with brain freeze consequences!! We’ve also got these ‘ices’ here with ‘kala khatta’ which means black (from the black salt) n sour which also has sweet… yeah salty sour sweet all at once is a favourite here. Weird but works.

    I’ve become a fan of ‘chaas’ which is a salty buttermilk with spices and fresh coriander… one of THE most refreshing things on a hot muggy it is so humid my sweat is sweating kinda days! Which is what I’m back too in Mumbai even though the temperature isn’t that high.

    So… lucky you.. it is a “dry heat” really is easier to manage. Especially with all your fab suggestions!! 🙂

    • Ah yes! The salty sour sweet combo is an interesting one. I had something along those lines in Thailand and the first time it knocked my socks off. My friend gave me a plastic bag filled with a bright orange liquid tied up with an elastic and a straw. I was thirsty and it looked so delicious but it was salty (!!) orange juice. The second shock was buying a bag of green mango. It came with a little plastic bag of what looked like sugar with red bits but it was salt and chili peppers. I wasn’t used to spicy food at the time so it was hard to swallow!

      Those drinks sound fantastic. I would love to try chaas! Is it something regional or can you find it all over the country?

      Ha ha! I wasn’t sure about the whole “dry heat” thing. I tried to explain what it was because you hear about it a lot in dry Alberta but perhaps it’s too niche. 😀

      • Nah… we have ‘dry heat’ in Delhi and even Winnipeg too! So could completely relate. 🙂

        As for raw green mango – tart and refreshing! Make it spicy salty and yum!! Throw in some fish sauce and chopped mint or coriander and you have the makings of salad in a baggie. 🙂

        Versions of chaas can be found all over – my favourite though is how it is prepared in Bombay. You just need to know what to ask for in different parts i.e. Tamil Nadu it would be ‘thayir’. You can now get it in drink boxes readily from Amul dairy too as ‘Masala Chaas.’ Maybe you can find it in an Indian grocery store in Alberta?

        • Ha ha! Glad to hear I’ve got a fellow relater with the dry heat.

          Isn’t fish sauce the most addictive thing on *earth*?! It took a bit to get used to the smell but then I couldn’t stop putting it on every single thing I ate.

          I’ll have to look around for chaas. I haven’t eaten enough Indian food to get used to the flavors and combinations but I would like to know more. Hitoshi is really interested in curries and we’ve got our sights on trying out some local award winning restaurants in town. Do you have any suggestions for good dishes to try or is that a ridiculous question? ;D

          • Hehe! Just like many parts of the world, there isn’t ONE cuisine in India. After all, the differences in language, traditions and more is sorta like compressing all of Europe into one country. You wouldn’t DARE suggest French cuisine is like German!

            So… my vote is to explore by regions… see if you can track down restaurants representative of Punjabi & Moghuli (that should be easy), then ‘South’ Indian (which also has massive variation) and do make the effort to try and find a Bengali restaurant. I’ve yet to find in Canada good representations of Maharashtrian coastal cuisine, Assamese, etc. But if you do – wow!

            And yes – fish sauce is a gift to the palate!!!

            • 😀 Sorry, my dear. I think I baited you. And I love your suggestion to explore by region. That is *very* helpful since many restaurants seem to call themselves “Indian” but it’s far more refined than that, especially when you read the menu carefully. A fantastic little restaurant down the street from our old place was actually focused on a particular region of Pakistan in its cuisine… and here I kept calling it “Indian” food. *gak!* I think this tendency is due to ignorance (on my part) and wanting to draw in the masses with something potentially known (on the part of the restaurant). When you’ve been eating outside India, have you found that foods are close to what you’d expect or have they been changed a lot, perhaps for local tastes? My HK friend felt that Chinese cuisine (now there’s another gigantic generalization, eh?) was altered because the assumption was made that the “locals” wouldn’t be able to eat the “real thing”. (Okay… I’m done with quotes and thinking about a blog post on the topic!)

              • Hehe! Sounds like the restaurant you found near your old place was a gem! This years Eid feast featured food flown in from Karachi specially for the hungry Mumbai mouths. 🙂

                Actually Indian Chinese is a very popular hybrid. One proponent of the ‘better’ kind is called “Mainland China” which now.. get this… has a chain in China too. 🙂 No where else have I found the distinctive Indian Chinese flavours of veg hakka noodles or veg manchurian balls.

                Do you remember all those Canadian Chinese joints in small prairies towns built along the railroad? Deep fried sweet n sour chicken balls with an unnatural orange sauce and pineapples – have you seen this anywhere else?

                And yes – “Chinese” cuisine is just like “Indian” in that there is such wonderful regional variation. One of my favs is Hunan – hot, spicy, and insanely delicious! Yet have never had any ‘real’ Hunan cuisine outside of China. Sigh….

                You have made me Soooooooooo hungry!!!!

                • This is yet another time when I would love to have a conversation *in person* with you! You’ve got such interesting experiences. That’s incredible that food was flown in! And Indian Chinese sounds truly mouthwatering. I will have to see what I can find… and wow about “Mainland China”!

                  And yes, I do remember and still see those ubiquitous establishments. In fact, the Edmonton museum had a small display on just those several years back. Apparently green onion cakes came from this part of the world. I wish I remembered more from the display cards. There was some interesting analysis as to the hows and whys! But have I seen these anywhere else? Hmmm… no, I can’t say I have, but then again, my 16 country travel list is not particularly outstanding.

                  Back on the Chinese restaurants… stores like Save On and Safeway and Coop seem to sell the same type of bright orange sweet n sour dishes…. My HK friend made the same dish from scratch for us ages and ago and it tasted nothing like what I expected. And… he said his mom’s “secret” ingredient was ketchup. She adapted the recipe when they moved to Canada and were living in a super small rural town.

                  Soooo fascinating!

                  • Me too! It was quite a feast – a pocket of Pakistan in swish Mumbai. 🙂 How cool Edmonton had a display of those small town Chinese restaurants. And I have heard a ‘secret’ ingredient is ketchup?! Crazy, eh?

                    • I know! This is a long ago response so the “I know!” is about the small town Chinese restaurants at the museum. I secretly hope they put it on again. I can’t remember how may years back it was, although I can check it out. The museum is going to be shut down soon for a couple of years I think to move everything to its new location. Exciting but also the end of an era. The location is so gorgeous. And yes! Who woulda’ thunk ketchup is the be all and end all of reinvented bits of Chinese cuisine. 😀

                    • Hehehe! It really does sound like an interesting exhibit. 🙂 Made me think of Season 3 of “Hell on Wheels” about the making of the railroad in the US…

  3. Interesting tips. I don’t do heat very well and usually just try to stay indoors or by the sea! Thankfully we don’t have that problem in Aberdeen. Even if it gets warm outside the house stays cool inside.

    • Yes! I think from your pictures you’ve got a stone house? And with a garden to help with temperature regulation, I think you’re all set. We bought two air conditioners for the upstairs bedrooms today. Last night, our room was +30C when we went to bed. It was horrible. I was up at 1am mopping our toddler with wet hand towels. After several hours of the a/c running at full blast, the bedroom is finally at 23C. What a relief! How warm does it get in the summer in Aberdeen?

      • Not so much stone as brick, but not wood anyway. Upstairs can get warm as the windows are sloping as they are in the roof and the sun (sometimes) comes straight in. We are lucky if we see 25C on a good day – occasionally nearer 30C for the odd day. Sorry I have forgotten where you are living in Canada.

        • Wow! I didn’t realize the weather is pretty good. I’m in Alberta and both Edmonton and Calgary get to 30C or above every summer. Medicine Hat and Lethbridge get up to the high 30s. It’s nuts because winters go to -25 and below. I find it incredible that people live here with temperature ranges of 60 degrees! Do you get a lot of rain?

          • Well it is not too hot if that is what you mean. It is very grey a lot of the time, though, and yes a lot of rain. On a good day it is very pleasant, good temperatures for doing things, but the worst is that it is so unpredictable. You can’t even trust the weather forecasts. It is difficult to plan anything, like a bbq. My son and his wife are moving to Calgary in August, so I am sure we will be over before too long.

            • I can imagine. It sounds even more unstable than Rocky Mountain weather! I can’t get over that your son and daughter-in-law are moving to Calgary. Do they need anything at all? Info? Ideas? Hints? Tips? I’m happy to help out in any way. Feel free for them to send me an email to japancanmix[at]gmail.com. I have a feeling you’ll be here before we’ll get to Scotland. Please send me a message and we will come and meet you.

              • We can’t really get over it either! I will certainly pass on your email as they will probably have questions for you, especially as you have a little one too. It could be Edmonton if my son doesn’t find a job in Calgary. We will certainly meet up when we come over – we will try to get over for Christmas but not sure whether we will be staying in the mountains.

                • I’m still shaking my head in disbelief. Yes… getting to the mountains at Christmas is either an easy drive or a giant headache where turning back is the best option. The weather can be so unpredictable. My only advice is to get good winter tires on your vehicle if you make the trip in wacky weather! And again, I’d love to help out so make use of me. ;D

  4. During my first trip in China we went to hot springs. I was at first not so happy as we had temperatures around 38-40 degrees so I wondered how quickly I would meld in the hot springs. Surprisingly I felt really refreshed during and after the session 🙂

    • Isn’t it strange?! I had a similar experience in Japan. It was well over +35 with high humidity during the day but slipping into an outdoor onsen after dark was delicious, even if we were covered in sweat 15 minutes later walking back to our guesthouse. I’m sure this is a silly question given how big China is but are hot springs common?

    • Ha ha! I hear you about being a whiny mess in Japan in the summer. 😀 But it really is a fantastic time to visit. There are so many festivals, events, different foods, music, and the whiring cicada to make up for the heat and humidity. It’s definitely worth it.

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