Brace yourself — summer is coming.
Even if you’ve dreamed of living in Japan your entire life, your first summer here is likely to fill you with regret. If the heat and humidity don’t have you rethinking your decisions, then natsubate, or summer fatigue, certainly will.
Don’t get me wrong, summer is an incredible time to experience Japan, its culture, customs, and cuisine. The summer months are filled with fun events like the Tanabata star festival, Obon dance festivals, and fireworks displays. Summer in Japan is also a wonderful time to explore the country’s natural beauty through marine excursions, hiking, camping, rafting, and more.
As the high temperatures (along with mold and dangerous bugs) can cause serious health risks, it’s important to be prepared. To help you with this, I’m sharing 7 time-tested tips and tricks for surviving summer in Japan. I’ll also share how I incorporate these tips and tricks into my daily routine all summer long.
7 Tips and Tricks For Surviving Summer in Japan
1. Get Started NOW!
Do not wait until summer to summer-proof your Japanese home.
I repeat: Do not wait until summer to summer-proof your Japanese home!
Summer essentials like mold cleaning supplies (tip #2) and insect repellant (tip #3) are likely to be in stock in your neighborhood drugstore, supermarket, or convenience store.
However, there’s no guarantee when it comes to must-have summer appliances like dehumidifiers, air conditioners, cooling units, and electric fans. Whether you make your purchase in person or online, odds are that shipping will take several days, or even weeks for popular or large appliances. Scheduling installation will also affect your delivery date.
Likewise, when it comes to air conditioner cleaning maintenance, you’ll want to make sure your unit is clean before you turn it.
Imagine this scenario: It’s 30+ degrees Celsius outside, and with the walk or bicycle ride from the train station, you’re a hot, sweaty mess. You enter your home, rush through the genkan into your living room, and turn on the air conditioner… only to discover that no cool air is coming out! (Or that the air is all musty!)
Cleaning your air conditioner on your own is no easy feat, but fear not, it can be done. On the other hand, if you’d like to save time, live with small children, or have respiratory issues, it’s best to let a professional cleaning service do the work.
Keep in mind that you’re looking at a cost of 8,000 to 15,000 yen per unit, though many cleaning services offer discounts when you schedule a cleaning appointment for multiple units on the same day.
Still, if those prices seem steep, and you’re not up for cleaning your air conditioner on your own, you may be tempted to outsource the cleaning portion to independent contractors. Be warned, though: Every year, there are news reports of unscrupulous business practices in which scam artists lure victims by promising affordable air conditioner cleaning services. It’s best to do your research thoroughly online or get a referral from a friend or colleague before booking a cleaning appointment.
Coming from personal experience: When my husband scheduled cleaning via a popular third-party house cleaning agent, the cleaners did not show. On top of this, they demanded a cancelation fee on top of the service charge even though they never came to our building. We have “auto-lock” doors that are equipped with a video, so when anyone buzzes our apartment number we know immediately and it triggers a video recording. After calling them on their bluff, the cleaners eventually gave up on their scam.
Tips on how to select a reputable cleaner by The Japanese Association of Air Conditioner Cleaning (in Japanese).
2. Get the Right Cleaning Products
With summer in Japan comes immense heat, humidity, and… mold. To keep mold at bay you’ll need the right cleaning products, desiccant boxes, a dehumidifier, and/or small fan.
Your Japanese bathroom (the one with a shower-bathtub unit) is an ideal place for mold to grow. If you have a window, be sure to leave it open after taking a bath or shower to air out the room.
If you live in an apartment or condominium, odds are that you won’t have a window. In this case, you’ll want to purchase a small electronic fan for the purpose of keeping your bathroom well-ventilated during the summer months.
Modern Japanese bathrooms are likely to have electronic ventilation units that also work as a room dryer, heater, and cooling fan. I recommend running the bathroom fan 24 hours a day in order to prevent mold from growing.
In the unfortunate event that you discover mold in your bathroom, you’ll want to get rid of it as soon as possible.
Look for any product that has カビ (kabi) on the label. “Kabi” means mold, and you’re likely to encounter the rival products カビキラー (Kabi Kira-/Mold Killer) and カビハイター(Kabi Haita-/ Mold Right). Note that there are various products on the market to eliminate mold. Be sure to select products that are meant to be used in the bathroom (トイレ/toire) and bathtubs (お風呂) and shower rooms/unit baths (バス).
The product pictured in the middle, おふろの防カビくん煙剤 (Ofuro no Bou Kabi Kun Nenzai), is a product that releases a fog of ionized silver to prevent mold from growing in your bathroom.
When using cleansing products be sure to follow these safety tips:
- Use your cleaning products as directed
- Use in a well-ventilated area
- Wear gloves to protect your hands
- Always dilute concentrated cleaning products (濃縮洗剤/noushokuu senzai) before use
- Keep cleaning products out of the reach of children and pet
- Never mix an acidic cleaner with chlorine-based products!
3. Get the Right Clothing & Bedding
For daily comfort, I wear UNIQLO Airism tank tops and “relaco,” knee-length shorts with an elastic waistband. They’re made of a lightweight, breathable fabric. Another way to beat the summer heat is by wearing jinbei, a two-piece traditional Japanese garment that you’ll often see during the summertime.
Jinbei have elastic waistbands, adjustable tops, and are made out of lightweight materials, meaning they’ll dry quickly on a hot summer day. If you have small children, jinbei are definitely the way to go! Paired with Airism mesh onesies for babies and tank tops for toddlers, kids, and adults, jinbei are an underrated yet effective way to stay comfortable all summer long.
Keeping cool during the summer isn’t just about the clothes you wear. Head to a department store, hardware store, or home interior store to purchase bedding, pillows, and mattresses that are cool to the touch.
Often these items will have 接触冷感 (sesshoku reikan) or ひんやり (hinyari) on the packaging to indicate their temperature regulating function.
You can also make the switch to タオルケット (taoru ketto). These thin blankets have a towel-like texture (hence the portmanteau “towel blanket”) and are ideal for hot nights.
Don’t forget to purchase “cool” mats for your furry friends, too!
4. Get Your Pantry and Refrigerator in Order
It’s a good idea to stock oral rehydration solutions, or ORSs, in the event that you experience mild to moderate dehydration.
To keep heatstroke and dehydration at bay, you’ll want to stay hydrated. Water, of course, will do the trick, but barley tea (麦茶) is a cultural staple. If you’ve never had barley tea before, it’s a caffeine-free drink that’s surprisingly refreshing, though I initially balked at the idea of drinking unsweetened iced tea.
Caffeine-free (カフェインゼロ) teas like Soukenbicha (爽健美茶) and Jurokucha (十六茶) are additional options.
You may be tempted to down sports drinks like Pocari Sweat and Aquarius all summer long, but beware of the sugar content.
Likewise, if you have small children or pets in your home, you’ll want to have nutritional supplements on hand in the event they’re feeling fatigued or experiencing symptoms of heat exhaustion. Always be sure to consult with a medical professional.
As for summer foods, I’ve always found it amusing that “cool” foods are a summer staple in Japan when cultures in tropical climates are characterized by their spicy cuisine.
It took me a few years to warm up to the idea of eating a big bowl of ice cool noodles, but now I’m all for it. (Side note: cold noodle dishes are a lifesaver on those super lazy summer days when you don’t have the energy to cook.)
My favorite cold noodle dish is hiyashi chuuka (冷やし中華) or “chilled Chinese noodles.” Something akin to a cold ramen salad, the noodles are served in a cold broth and topped with a generous helping of tomatoes, ham, cucumbers, and a hard boiled egg. I’m also fond of cold tantan men and spicy Southeast Asian dishes.
One of the most rewarding aspects of summer in Japan is the variety of limited edition sweets and drinks. Take advantage of all the summer flavors available at the supermarket or nearest convenience store! Popular flavors include tropical fruits, salty lemon, watermelon, and chocolate mint.
Need more tasty suggestions? Check out 5 Delicious Ways To Stay Cool In Japan This Summer
5. Get All the Pesticides and Insect Repellent Items You Can Find
Whether you’re indoors or outdoors this summer, be sure to watch out for insects!
In Japan, you may encounter everything from mosquitoes (蚊) and ants (アリ), to cockroaches (ゴキブリ) and spiders (クモ), to centipedes (ムカデ) and murder hornets (スズメバチ).
Centipedes are formidable creatures that can grow up to 20 centimeters long, and murder hornets are, well… I think they’re named appropriately.
You’re likely to rely on insect repellent products (虫除け) throughout the summer. Citronella coils (蚊取り 線香) are a classic product used to repel mosquitoes.
However, if you’re sensitive to strong scents or have small children or pets in your home, perhaps you’d prefer an electronic diffuser (電子蚊取り器). Be careful when handling this device as it can get very hot.
Another alternative to citronella coils are outdoor insect repellent devices that you can hang on your door or on your balcony/veranda. The one pictured above is solar powered and lasts for up to 260 days!
This hanging repellent for the balcony is “natural herb scented” and lasts for up to 130 days. The scent does not transfer onto clothing hanging outside.
If you have pets, there are many products available to keep mosquitoes, fleas, ticks, and mites away.
These flea and tick treatment drops only need to be applied once a month, and they keep mites away, too.
6. Get the Right Toiletries
Even if you plan on staying indoors this summer, eventually you’ll still have to venture outside in the sweltering heat in order to go to work, attend school, or shop for essentials. But how do you protect yourself from the heat and keep unwanted body odor at bay?
This is where Japanese toiletries come into play.
You should know that there are two categories of summer toiletries. There are antiperspirants that work to reduce wetness and deodorants that fight odor-causing bacteria. Be on the lookout for any product that has sweat (汗) or odor (臭い) on the label. These words may be written in katakana as アセ and ニオイ, respectively.
If you’re not sure where to start and decoding kanji and katakana seems daunting, choose a product that has “Ag” on the label. “Ag” is the atomic symbol for silver, proven to prevent odor-causing bacteria.
There’s a dizzying variety of personal care products on the market, and this summer is bound to be a long one. This means you’ll have plenty of time to find a combination of goods that work for you.
For what it’s worth, the only domestic deodorant that I have found to be effective is Nivea Deodorant Approach. It’s a small, roll-on deodorant available in two unscented formulas, one with a pearlescent finish and one without.
I also swear by Biore Sarasara Powder Sheets, Nivea Cool Spray for Body, and Saborino UV Spray Coat for when I’m on the go.
Lastly, when heading out in the summer heat, don’t forget your cardigan! I don’t go anywhere without my UNIQLO UV Cut cardigans. While it may be hot and humid outside, public transportation and public spaces tend to have the air conditioner set to the lowest temperature possible. (Not that I’m complaining about it!)
7. Get The Right Cosmetics
I’ll end my 7 tips and tricks for surviving summer in Japan with my favorite category: cosmetics!
No matter your stance on cosmetics, sunscreen is a summer essential. It’s non-negotiable! As with summer toiletries, there’s an amazing variety of Japanese sunscreens to suit all complexions and skin types. You’ll find gels and milky formulas, cream formulas, sunscreen in aerosol cans, and even sunscreen sheets.
Japanese sunscreens are formulated to block both UVA and UVB rays, and the effectiveness is denoted by the SPF and PA scale. A product that is both SPF 50+ and PA ++++ has the highest domestic rating possible.
For 7 of my favorite Japanese sunscreens check out this blog post: 7 Japanese Sunscreens To Try This Summer
Pictured above is my typical summer skincare haul.
Top: Melano CC serum for treating spots and blemishes; cleansing oil; aloe vera gel; vitamin C toner; an exfoliating gel
Bottom: Saborino morning sheet masks that work in 60 seconds; cooling sheet masks; foot peeling masks for DIY pedicures
If you’re unsure where to start with summer skincare, I recommend three basic skin care products:
- Oil cleanser: Double cleansing is a great way to remove sunscreen and other pollutants that build up on your skin over the course of the day. Gently massage your face with an oil cleanser, rinse with warm water, and follow up with your preferred cleanser.
- Aloe: Aloe naturally has both cooling and soothing properties. Apply an aloe gel over your body after a bath/shower or when you have a sunburn.
- Vitamin C: You’ll find vitamin C in practically every kind of skincare product, from toners, serums, eye creams, to night gels and creams. Sometimes vitamin C products in Japan are marketed as “whitening” or “brightening” products, but they do not “bleach” the skin. Rather, they give the skin a more unified appearance. For more on Japanese “whitening” skincare products, check out this post: The Truth About Japanese Whitening Cosmetics.
Now that I’ve shared my 7 tips and tricks for surviving summer in Japan, here’s how I incorporate them into my summer routine.
My Routine for Surviving Summer in Japan
My summer days typically begin around 6 a.m., and I’m up before everyone else is awake. (That’s because I prefer to take my shiba on his morning walk before the pavement gets too hot for his feet.) Before we leave, I run the washing machine so that the cycle is done by the time we return home.
When I’m back, I’m a hot sweaty mess, so I take a shower, clean the shower room, and do a quick morning skincare routine. Afterwards, I hang the laundry to dry and air out the futons on the balcony, weather permitting.
On the days that I can’t put the futons out, I let my futon dryer do all the work!
It’s a small, shoe-box sized device with a hose to pump out hot or cold air.
I rely on ダニ (dani) mode to keep dust mites at bay and the “summer” setting to prevent mold growth.
We sleep in the tatami room all year round, and it’s a great choice for the summer as the straw mats keep the room cool. However, it’s important to make sure that the tatami mats get proper ventilation. This is another reason why I make sure the futon get their share of sunshine.
I also keep the dehumidifier running 24/7 and use a tower fan to circulate the air in the house.
With a small child and dog, summer fun can be challenging. To keep everyone from getting cabin fever, I schedule outdoor playtime for the early morning or late afternoon.
This year, I’ve set up a “bug command station” in our entranceway. All the products we need for comfortable summer outings are here, including insect repellent spray, stickers, wipes, and bracelets. I also have Muhi (ムヒ) here so I can give my daughter’s insect bites TLC as soon we return home.
Now, these bath bombs won’t turn the bathwater into an icy pool, but rather the minty scent relaxes and refreshes while the menthol gives a tingly sensation.
After getting out of the bath, it’s time for another round of skincare, this time with a cooling sheet mask.
How Does Your Summer Routine Compare?
Let’s recap the 7 ways that you can prepare for summer in Japan:
- Start summer prep ASAP! If you need to purchase a new air conditioner or schedule cleaning, now’s the time to do so.
- Stock up on desiccants to absorb moisture and cleaning supplies that are tough on mold.
- Switch to cooling bed sheets and add UNIQLO Airism pieces to your wardrobe.
- Stay hydrated with water, caffeine-free teas, and have a stash of oral rehydration solution on hand to combat symptoms of mild dehydration. Try cold noodle dishes and indulge your sweet tooth with limited edition snacks and drinks.
- Summer is when the bugs come out to play! You’ll want to have a full arsenal of insect repellent.
- Sweaty and stinky? No problem — look for toiletries (body sprays and body wipes) with “Ag” on the label. They use silver, which cuts down on odor-causing bacteria.
- Sunscreen is a must! Protect your skin with products that have a high SPF and PA rating. When it comes to summer skincare, keep it simple with an oil cleanser, vitamin C toners and serums, and aloe vera gel for sunburns.
Stay safe and hydrated this summer!