Aug 12, 2020

Song of the cicadas and other Japanese summer follies

For the Japanese, it is not spring till they have seen the first cherry blossom and it is not summer till they have heard the cicadas sing.
Normally, you would wake up with blissful silence around you till one day you are rudely shaken out of deep slumber by a sound that is similar to the sound your grandfather's ancient alarm clock made back in India. This is the cicadas tuning up for their summer concert. All through the summer, you will hear this sharp, drill-like noise till the entire island is positively vibrating with it. A sound that I loath because not only do I find the sound highly annoying but it also signifies the beginning of one season I detest the most in Japan – Summer.

The sound besides the sound of the water are the cicadas and their symphony. 

It rains non stop all through June and July and Japan is perpetually hidden behind a layer of rain and mist, making everything seem all mysterious and surreal. But as soon as August begins, the rains suddenly disappear to be replaced by clear untarnished blue skies. The sun is out in all its glory and perhaps miffed that it had to spend two months behind clouds, now shines down with a vengeance. It rises at 4.30 am and refuses to set before 7 pm making the day not only long but torturous for those who need to step out. Japan being an island does not help at all as now the hot and humid air rolls over from the Pacific so that you feel as if you are trudging through a sauna. If the sun doesn’t kill you, the humidity does.

Heat exhaustion or Natsubate is very common in Japan, but the Japanese being Japanese, have found several ingenious methods to deal with the heat.

One is the Fan. We have all seen pics of Japanese ladies daintily fanning themselves with pretty paper fans. But with technology, there has come a newer version of the good old paper fan. Come summer and shops are flooded with small battery-operated handheld fans. You can see a lot of people walking about outside while holding these fans close to their faces. I find it a bit silly and would prefer a traditional fan if I must use one, but whatever works!

Portable fans at Tokyu Hands store
Portable fans at the Tokyu Hands store

Another interesting thing are the cooling sheets. They are small methanol gel filled sheets that you can put on your forehead or on the back of your neck while you go about your work. They give you an instant cool feeling. There are also special cooling sheets you can put under the soles of your feet and on your ankles when you have been walking a lot and your feet and tired and hot.  I have tried them and now this is the first thing I stock up on as soon as summer starts. 

Another quirky Japanese invention are the sweat pads that you put under your clothing – usually around the armpits and they absorb all the sweat. Japanese deodorants are usually very mild and for the life of me, I cant understand why they would make something like these sweat pads instead of just making heavy-duty deos.

If you don’t like the idea of sticking sweat pads under your clothes there is something called the shirt spray very creatively named as 'Shirt cool'. You spray it on your clothes just before you put them on and every time you sweat the substance in the spray reacts and gives you an instant cool feeling.

All these things are displayed in shops under a sign that has a lot of ice or snow with penguins and polar bears sliding ecstatically in it. Once you see this sign you will trip over yourself in a rush to buy all the products under it so that you can feel as cool and happy as the polar bears.

Another interesting thing about Japan is the food. Every season they come up with some interesting food combinations. The flavor of summer is usually mint. Everything right from ice-cream to chocolate to cookies to coffee is mint flavored. This year even my hairstylist offered to wash my hair with a mint shampoo.

One traditional Japanese dish that I am extremely fond of eating in the summer is zaru soba. This is cold soba noodles eaten after dipping them in a light summerish soy broth. I find them very tasty and refreshing.

Besides the interesting food items and ingenious inventions to beat the heat, the saving grace in summer are the firework festivities held throughout the country. August is also the time for the Obon festival. Obon is when the ancestors are supposed to visit you and they are welcomed not only by solemn Buddhist ceremonies but feisty Obon dances. This year corona has put a dampener on all festivities. 
So, with not even the fireworks or the Obon dances to lure me outside, I shall stay indoors while the summer lasts, gorging on mint ice cream and cold soba and dreaming of October when it is pleasant once again and the leaves start turning a reddish-golden in the anticipation of autumn.  


  1. Wishing you minty cool joys of summer; and the splash of russet gold in autumn. Tokyo and Kyoto ( as I’m sure the rest of the island) will be in flame.

    1. Thank you so much for reading. I am really waiting for autumn!

  2. Very interesting. Never heard about these Japanese tricks to beat the heat. Some of them are sounding funny to me now but I am also sympathising with poor souls in humidity there. Interestingly we Indians are also in same boat in the months of August and September and we too desperately wait for October here. May you spend this time comfortably in WFH mode this year 😊

  3. Eye-opener. Interesting travel trivia!

  4. Interesting products. Stay cool and stay safe, Ruch.

  5. Lovely read. Get those cooling sheets for us too.



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