Summer in Tokyo: Expectations vs Reality

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My clothes haven’t been this drenched in sweat since a hot yoga class I took in 2017. Since Japan’s rainy season bid farewell and August barged into our lives, every morning I dread the two-minute-and-45-second walk from my front door to the train station. Oh yes, I count the seconds.

You don’t have a choice: Tokyo’s unbearable summer will drag you down with its average of 100% humidity and 30 degrees Celsius. You can’t get comfortable, just like you can’t stop yourself from commenting about how hot it is, even if you swore you wouldn’t fall into the atsui desune group this year.

Travel bloggers make the season look like a breeze, but it’s actually an incredibly hectic time of year, especially if you’re in a place that’s popular with both Japanese and international tourists – as is Tokyo. Let’s take a quick look at some of the quintessential elements of summer in Japan, and why they may or may not live up to the Insta-illusion.

Hanabi, Matsuri and Kakigori

Fireworks are often listed as a mainstay of Japanese summers, and rightfully so. They are proper celebrations and come in a range of colors and shapes. Bring a date and the evening turns romantic. Bring some friends and it becomes an unforgettable party. If this part of summer is something you absolutely don’t want to miss out on, I recommend going to a fireworks festival that’s being held as far away from Tokyo as possible.

Tokyo area is the home of more than 30 million people and neighborhoods are packed as it is. Wherever and whenever you go to a festival, there’s bound to be a massive crowd of people making your commute a very squashed affair – maybe not on the way there but certainly on the way back. Were you hoping to lay down on a blanket to watch the show? It’s not as simple as arriving at the venue 30 minutes before the launch. Those great spots come at a very high sacrifice: be there at the crack of dawn and wait through the day. Either you’ll be sizzling under the blazing sun or you’ll be sitting in the rain.

The same goes for traditional summer festivals called matsuri. The dances, musicians and parades are beautiful to see, but in the capital they’re more often than not ridiculously overcrowded. I wouldn’t recommend trying to walk in a yukata for the first time while you’re being pushed and shoved. Matsuri do have their positives, of course. If you’re willing to get in line, you’ll always be able to get your hands on delicious street food and, my personal favorite, kakigori (shaved ice). In the heat of the season, nothing feels better than eating a bit of cold, sugary ice. Brain freeze recommended.

Parasols, Long Sleeves and Beer Gardens

Baby, it’s hot outside, but boy is it freezing in here. A distinct characteristic of summer in Tokyo is the chilly temperature inside offices, trains, stores and restaurants whose owners aren’t afraid to blast their air conditioning units to recreate the environment of the inside of an industrial freezer. If you were thinking you could perhaps make the humid exterior comfortable by rocking a tank top and shorts, think again. The second those train doors open, you’ll get chills running down your spine. It’s no wonder Tokyoites so frequently catch “summer colds.” Packing a jacket or light cardigan or opting for loose pants and blouses in fabrics like linen and cotton are your best options for optimum comfort as you navigate the extreme daily changes in temperature.

Thanks to the intense heat, most people in Tokyo tend to try and avoid the sun rather than bask in it. As a result, you’ll see a variety of hats on show: baseball, fishermen, face-covering visors and more. You’ll also see women wearing arm sleeves (the mind boggles as to how they can stand the heat) and carrying parasols (also helpful for those who care about the state of their curls).

All things considered, if you want to make the most of Tokyo in the months of July and August, it’s best to do it after the sun sets. Luckily, summer weather rhymes with beer gardens. These little isles of paradise appear throughout the city, hidden in various green spaces. They are always a delightful place to be, filled with ice-cold beers, barbecue and good vibes.

Or, you could just spend every weekend at one of these outdoor swimming pools.

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