Summer in Japan: A Survival Guide

July 30th, 2012By Category: Culture

Photo by Cozy66 via Flickr

Once again, summer has arrived so quickly and unannounced, and it’s here to stay until well, the end of October. Summer in Japan is unlike summer in any other places in the world. It’s hot, it’s humid, it’s stifling, it’s suffocating, and it’s… hot. Summer in Japan can be difficult, but it also brings beautiful images: fireworks, matsuri (festivals), yukatas (summer kimonos), cold tea and noodles, stylish handkerchiefs and green tea ice cream.

The word natsubate is used to describe the fatigue and lethargy that comes along during the unbearable summer months. I tend to feel so sleepy and tired during the summer, not very hungry at all and not too motivated to go outdoors. Last year I wrote a Summer in Japan Survival Guide, and after experiencing my second Japanese summer, I think I’m slowly becoming an expert in surviving in extreme temperatures.

Here are my most useful tips:


Whether it’s green tea, water, vitamin water or any fruit flavoured water, you have no excuse to not stay hydrated. Japan is convenient in every way possible, from convenience stores to vending machines on every street corner. I carry around an insulated tea bottle which I fill up in the morning, and it keeps my tea chilled all day long. I highly recommend splurging on a quality tea bottle. I drink green tea for breakfast, then I switch to mugicha 麦茶 (roasted barley tea), which contains no caffeine. The kids drink that kind of tea throughout the day as well.

Dress accordingly

Japanese people tend to cover up in hot weather- arm covers and sun visors and all that jazz. In my case, I tend to take off clothing, and thankfully Osaka is a lot more forgiving about bare shoulders than rural Japan ever was. Light cotton sundresses and ballerina flats are my summer staples, and linen pants are perfect to work in this kind of heat.


Deodorant does not exist in Japan. Well, it does, but what you will find in drugstores is simply perfume. If you want deodorant or anti-sudorific, you need to have someone send it from home. In Japan, only The Body Shop carries something decent.

*Reader Ashley from the super informative blog Surviving in Japan enlightened me with some great options in Japan, please read here if you’re in Japan and confused about what’s available!


In the summer months, all designers come out with lovely handkerchiefs used to wipe your hands or dab your forehead and neck- they’re so beautiful and practical, I recommend always carrying them around.


Heat is not a reason to stop being active, and I like to keep up with my running habits, even in the most unbearable heat. I think it’s good to keep an exercise routine, but small changes must be made: I only go running once the sun has set, it makes a bit of a difference.

Summer dishes

My appetite is nearly gone in this kind of heat, but Japanese cuisine offers a variety of light meals and snacks that are enjoyable for your taste buds and stomach. Somen, udon and soba noodles are served cold with a chilled broth and vegetables. Salted and boiled edamame make for a nice appetizer. Hiyayakko is a simple dish of cold tofu with toppings: radish, ginger, plum, yuzu fruit. Another favourite of mine is cold shabu shabu, which is traditionally a hot pot, but served cold. Chilled jasmine tea is delicious in the summertime.

Air con

I don’t think it’s possible to survive without air conditioning in the Japanese summer, but a breeze makes things more pleasant. Invest in a fan, spray yourself with water and just relax.

Minimize and waterproof

If you’re a girl, put your hair up and minimize your makeup- if you must, waterproof everything, and Japanese makeup has a great selection of eyeliner and mascara that will require intense scrubbing to take it off.

Author of this article

Vivian Morelli

Vivian Morelli hails from Canada and is a journalist based in Tokyo, where she writes about culture, fashion, food and music. You can read her Japan musings at

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  • leslie nguyen says:

    Wow, I did not know that about deodorant in Japan! Interesting good tips you have for summer in Japan!

  • Yumi Zabre says:

    This being my first summer living in Japan, the only was I can explain it to people back home (“home” being known as the city of eternal spring, so you can imagine the weather) as “I went ahead to hell in paradise”. The heat is almost unbearable, and I’d never heard of “asemo” until my neck was covered in it, but bless the air conditioning, cold drinks, shaved ice and matsuri, they make all the heat worth it :3 Thank you for the article!!

  • zoomingjapan says:

    It’s my 6th summer in Japan and this is the first time that I have the feeling that I kind of got used to the heat.
    You mentioned that Japan unlike other countries in summer is extremely hot and humid, but I heard (never experienced myself) that there are a lot of other countries that are even worse (although I cannot and don’t want to imagine).

    I’m off for summer vacation for 2 weeks in a few days and I’ll go to Chubu / Kanto. I’m a bit scared as Gunma is holding the record for the highest temperatures.
    Summer is nice if you’re not out the whole day.
    Maybe I should write a guide how to survive traveling in summer … although I’m still trying to figure that out myself. *g*

  • Haha, your photo looks a lot like a corner in my apartment. My closet and walls are the same style. 🙂 thanks for the tips! I’ve been dying in this heat and I’m in the Kanto/Chiba region. I can’t wait for fall or winter again…and I’m from Vegas where it gets over 110F! But this humidity makes it so much more intense.