Summer has finally hit Japan. Hard. And I live on the first floor of a concrete apartment building that has no air conditioning. And there are only three windows in my entire apartment.
So as you can probably imagine, cold showers and ice cubes are sort of what my life revolves around at the moment. Every day I wake up at seven in the morning in a pool of sweat, shower and then escape to the cool, air-conditioned haven that is McDonalds to drink dollar iced coffee drinks until it’s time to leave for work.
The humidity is so great, by the time I walk the two minutes it takes from McDonalds to the station, my hair is plastered to my head in a frizzy mess and I’ve sweated off all of my make-up.
Curiously, I seem to be one of the few people effected by the heat. Everyone else seems to be leading relatively sweat-free, comfortable lives. And they walk around all day wearing gloves, scarves, cardigans and yes, hooded sweatshirts. People here are more afraid of a sunburn than a vampire is. I’m serious.
It’s not uncommon to see people (mostly women) carrying sun umbrellas, wearing sweaters and even gloves. And even stranger still, they don’t seem all that hot and bothered by it. They certainly aren’t sweating as near as much as they should be. I look at the people dressed like they’re on a ski holiday and sweat out of sympathy for them. It’s remarkable and incredibly impressive how dedicated they are to the health of their skin. I’m jealous. I only wish I cared even half as much as they do about wrinkle-prevention and skin cancer. It’s just too hot to summon the energy to give a damn.
Although, not everyone is immune. Today I saw an old woman collapse on the train platform from heat stroke. I didn’t know that was what had happened at the time, and ran to get help, fearing she had had a heart attack.
When I found a train station employee, I realized I didn’t know the Japanese words for either ’emergency’ or ‘help’ and so repeatedly yelled at the startled and bewildered man “come here!” Remarkably, he followed me up several flights of stairs without having any idea as to what the problem was. Maybe it was because he sensed the urgency in my voice. Or maybe it was because he was simply curious as to why some out-of-breath, wild-haired white woman was yelling at him.
When we reached her, she was conscious and a small crowd had gathered. A few women had whipped out fans and were busy trying to cool her off. Someone had pushed the emergency alarm button which was located a convenient five feet away from where the woman had fallen (of course, I notice this after I’ve run up and down three flights of stairs).
When I boarded my train a few minutes later, they were carrying her off in a stretcher. What a dramatic way to start the day, huh?
Bizarrely, this isn’t the first emergency situation I’ve been in here. A few weeks ago, I saw a very intoxicated man step off the train, stumble and then pass out cold. Flat on his face. I’d never seen anything like it. One second he’s standing perfectly upright and the next, he’s crashed flat onto the concrete. He hit the concrete so hard, he knocked himself out, as well as a few of his teeth. It was pathetic. And sad. Made more so by the fact that this wasn’t some drunken 20-year-old party boy or an alcoholic homeless man, but a business man in a suit. Probably on his way home to the wife and kiddies after one-too-many Sake shots with his co-workers.
You see this a lot. Fully-grown, well-dressed men, who look like they could be your father, puking on the pavement or peeing on a neighbor’s flower bed or passed outside some bar. What makes this weird is how normal and acceptable it is. It’s just another Tuesday night in Tokyo.
How is everyone else in the world staying cool this summer? Right now, I wish more than anything, that I was back working on a cruise ship, enjoying my time off lounging poolside and drinking Margaritas.