Japan is a country that is very in tune with the seasons, and as such there are a variety of ways to deal with the temperature and humidity extremes that summer and winter present, as well as their associated problems. Here you will find a great deal of information on how to cope.
Dealing with bugs
Depending on which country you hail from, one of the first things you might notice about the Japanese summer is the proliferation of bugs in and around your living environment. To keep those bugs at bay, here are some key products to invest in, organized by pest.
Apparently the mosquitoes in Japan are larger and more aggressive than in other countries (except Australia). Luckily, Japan has a ton of ways to control these little beasts. If you are prone to being bitten, definitely consider stocking up on some or all of these products.
First, you need to stop them coming in your house. Aside from keeping window screens tightly shut, pick up one of these deterrents and hang it somewhere near any door or window that will be open.
Next, stop them from coming around your frequently-used areas such as your bed or living space by using a spray or other liquid repellent such as these. The spray type (below left) can be manually activated or set to automatically spray at intervals, with each spray lasting for a certain number of hours. The liquid type (below right) is connected to a power source and constantly emits a scent (that humans cannot detect) to ward mosquitos off at all times.
If you find yourself needing to leave the safety of your house environment and head outdoors, be sure to pick up some personal repellent. This particular liquid spray type seems to be quite effective and has no nasty smell.
Finally, just in case all of the above don’t work and you find yourself with a nasty itchy bite or two (or a hundred!), pick up some itch-relief cream like the ones shown below. The most notable and common brand is ムヒ (muhi), which can be found at all drugstores and comes in both a roll on and cream/gel versions.
Moths / Silverfish
Although moths and silverfish can be a problem all year round, there is nothing worse than storing your winter woolies away during summer, only to pull them out in winter full of holes. To stop these nasties attacking your clothes, consider hanging a repellent in each of your cupboards and use the smaller packs in drawers. They are the equivalent of mothballs, but without the strong naphthalene smell.
Cockroaches, Ants, and Other Bugs
Again, these pests could afflict your home at any time throughout the year, but with food spoiling more quickly during the hot weather, they can become a real problem in summer if left untreated. For cockroaches, there are a ton of bait-type products available, which are usually small black plastic cylinders you leave around in various places such as under furniture, inside cupboards etc.
If you still find roaches scurrying around, you can always kill them with a generic bug spray like those on the right. キンチョール (kinchoru) is a common brand for use on all types of bugs, but there are a ton of other options – look for something with pictures of bugs on the can.
Note that if you are squeamish about spiders, these cans might also be of some use to you, although the majority of spiders in Japan are harmless, especially the large Huntsman variety.
One insect that you may want to watch out for though is the mukade, or centipede. These guys are aggressive and tough to kill, even with a few hits from a heavy shoe. They often enter apartments by coming up through drains, and so can sometimes be spotted in bathrooms or around the washing machine. Note that they tend to be more of an issue in older apartments or houses on the ground floor. Apparently some sprays are effective on these insects, although you may have to use a fair amount. May the odds be ever in your favor!
In the heat of summer, fruit and other foods spoil more quickly andattract more flies than in the cooler months. Consider storing your fruit in your refrigerator and/or purchasing only a small amount at a time. Regardless, you might find tiny flies hanging around your apartment, especially near the trash can. With these small traps, the flies are attracted to a sweet-smelling substance and get stuck in it. One strategically placed near the trash or fruit bowl should do the trick.
Dust mites are microscopic insects that live in soft furnishings, but especially love tatami mats. Though it is possible to be allergic to dust mites, for most people you may never really know they are there… trust that they are! These mites live in all kinds of house environments, but are prolific where there are tatami mats. So if your tatami are quite old (if you don’t know when they were last replaced, it’s probably safe to say they have been there a while) then consider bombing the mites occasionally to get rid of them.
Look for this kind of spray can with ダニ (dani = dust mite) written on. It has a special nozzle that you stick down through the tatami and spray underneath them to kill everything living under and within the mats.
Dealing with the Heat and Humidity
Aside from all the bugs that appear in the summer it’s important that you also just make sure you are taking care of yourself. The heat and especially humidity here in Saga can be quite taxing, not to mention making you sweaty and stinky at work. Here are some ideas to help you deal with the situation.
With the warm weather typically comes mold… a LOT of it. During the rainy season in June the air is warm and constantly damp, and so will be everything in your cupboards. To draw the moisture out of the air and stop mold growing on surfaces or your clothes, get yourself some shikketori. They come in a variety of brands, shapes and sizes, including specific ones to hang in closets and put into drawers (right), as well as these tubs (below), which give you the best bang for your buck in terms of moisture-drawing power and replacement time. Consider getting a few of each type, as you will probably need multiple ones in each location, especially at the height of rainy season and throughout the summer months. They are an inexpensive way to prevent mold.
Aside from mold around your clothes, you will probably notice that it grows much faster in the bathroom during the warmer months too. For dealing with this mold on surfaces, look for products marked with ハイター (haitaa), which is Japanese for bleach. Take care to purchase your bleach from the right section of the supermarket or drugstore: the bleach used for whites when doing laundry will be a lot stronger than one that is appropriate to use on kitchen or bathroom surfaces.
For use in bathrooms and showers, カビキラー (kabi kiraa), or ‘mold killer’, is very effective. You just spray on, leave for 5-10 minutes, and then wipe the mold off with a bit of water.
Finally, if you have a toilet with a small basin on top, you can keep it fresh by using one of these fresheners. They keep things smelling nice, and most also have special cleaning additives to also keep the cistern and bowl mold-free.
If you sweat a lot, you might want to stock up on some of these little sweat pads to keep you looking and feeling fresh while at work. They are adhesive on one side, so you can stick them to the inside of your clothing to stop sweat patches from forming under the arms. They come in a variety of shapes, including those for T-shirts as well as sleeveless tops.
Although they are not really appropriate for the work environment, to keep cool in your free time you can always use a specially-designed neck cooler. Usually these are activated with a little water and then wrapped around the neck to help keep you cool. A cheaper alternative is to keep a damp towel in the freezer and wrap that around the neck for a while to cool down.
Other Hot Weather Maintenance
Futon and tatami care
Along with mold in your cupboards and bathroom, if you are not careful you may soon find that your tatami mats (if you have them) and/or futon are also affected. Remember that when you sleep, a ton of heat flows from your futon and is absorbed by the tatami underneath. In a hot damp (humid) environment, this is a recipe for a moldy disaster. To avoid this nasty situation, be sure to:
- Fold up and put away your futon at least every couple of days (although ideally this should be done every day)
- Air your futon outside in the sunshine on a regular basis
- Clean up any liquid spills on tatami immediately
- Use a diluted vinegar solution to clean tatami if required
Air conditioner cleaning
As with all other surfaces and items in your home, your air conditioner is also prone to get moldy in the warmer months. Especially since you probably won’t be aware of when the last cleaning took place, it is highly recommended that you clean the filter in your air conditioner when you first arrive at your apartment in Japan. Most filters are easily accessed and removed (just open a vent or door and pull out) in order to wipe or wash away the built-up lint, dirt and so on. For a more thorough clean, including throughout the air conditioning system itself (not just the filter), try a spray can like this. Just spray into the AC and then turn it on for a while, and it will completely clean everything inside. A number of JETs have reported fantastic results after using this product, including stronger air flow, reduced electricity bills, seemingly cleaner air and reduced allergy symptoms.
Unfortunately, despite the heat, most people find themselves needing to wear some kind of undergarment/layer under their work shirt even at the height of summer in order to minimise the amount of sweat showing on the outer-most layer. For these as well as outer-garments, consider stocking your wardrobe with items in natural fabrics such as cotton and linen, which are breathable.
In Japan there is an abundance of clothing made from man-made fabrics such as rayon (especially for women), but although these fabrics feel light and soft to the touch, they do not breathe like natural fabrics and thus tend to make you sweat more.
The popular clothing store Uniqlo also offers a lot of clothing options (both under garments and regular T-shirts, shirts etc) that are designed to be ‘quick dry’, or use specific ‘Cooltech’ technology to keep you cool. Look for these special stickers/logos.
Once the intense heat of summer dies down and you are relishing in the cool autumn weather, you may notice that things turn a little too cool for your liking… especially if you hail from a rather temperate climate such as in Sydney or California. So before things turn super cold, be prepared with some of the items.
Kairo are your ultimate winter friends. They are little packets of rocks and dirt that begin a chemical reaction and release heat when moved/shaken. They come in different ‘strengths’ that will last different amounts of time, with the minimum being about 10 hours and the maximum being about 24hrs. Even the most basic varieties are plenty for a day at work. They come in individual sealed packets inside a larger box, and don’t release heat until taken out and shaken around a bit.
There are 3 main types – ones with adhesive on one side that you stick on your inner layers of clothing (e.g. at the small of your back, or on the shoulders); ones with no adhesive that are designed to be held (for in your pockets); and even ones that go in your shoes or stuck on your socks to keep your feet warm! It might seem like overkill, but in a school environment with no heating, one of these in your pocket is a great way to keep the hands a little warmer during class. The foot ones are a blessing on days you have to stand on the cold gym floor. Soon you’ll begin to notice why all the students have their hands in their pockets all the time!
Just as kairo will be your lifesavers at school, your kotatsu may become your new best friend at home. Some people find themselves stuck under their kotatsu in the cooler months, not wanting to move or go out. While we certainly don’t advocate that approach, this clever table with electric heater element underneath and blanket over the top is certainly a great invention to keep your legs warm while eating, watching TV, using your computer, and more!
Warning: When using a kotatsu, take care not to burn yourself, and never sleep under the kotatsu, as this can be very dangerous. Also note that you will experience a drastic drop in motivation to leave your apartment when using. Really.
Uniqlo has a huge range of ‘Heattech’ clothing available during the cooler months. These undergarments are perfect to layer underneath other shirts and sweaters to keep you warm. They are essentially the equivalent of ‘thermals’, ‘spencers’, or other similar heat-retaining clothing. Look for this logo and layer up these tops to keep you warm without looking like the Michelin Man in multiple sweaters.
Heated blankets and water bottles
Heated blankets and their cheaper counterpart, hot water bottles, can be used to warm your bed or futon before you climb in. Just turn on the blanket or fill a bottle of with hot (but not boiling) water and place it under your covers. In about 30 minutes, your bed will be transformed from a frigid crypt to a warm, inviting sleep space.
Heat spaces, not places!
You may have noticed that there has been no mention of using your air conditioner/heater to heat your apartment. While this may seem like an obvious and effective choice, it is also very expensive. Keeping warm in the Japanese winter is most efficiently done by heating the space around you rather than your entire apartment or workspace. Combine different methods to figure out what works best for you, and don’t worry–spring is always on the horizon!