70,000+ Hospitalized and 138 Deaths: The New Japanese Summer

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  • Japanese summers have always been notorious for being excruciatingly hot and humid. Considering summer vacations tend to be very long and thus the months from June to September are considered peak season, the weather is one of the things foreign visitors have to understand before visiting Japan. The fact that one is getting beach weather when touring big metropolises like Tokyo and Osaka and historical cities like Kyoto and Nara is definitely not ideal.

    The Yearly Struggle

    For residents, however, summers are worse. Imagine this: you have to take the trains during the already insufferably crowded rush hours to get to work, and despite companies promoting what they call “Cool Biz”, an initiative that allows employees to wear to work without having to wear a tie and a jacket, you are still wearing trousers, uncomfortable shoes, and a collared shirt. If you are not used to the weather (and we mean USED TO IT), this attire will be your daily inferno during those horrid months.

    It truly is perplexing. You can be walking in the busy financial districts of Marunouchi and Nishi-Shinjuku and see some businesspeople drenched in sweat as they walk to meet some clients. To a foreigner, particularly form regions like the U.S. West Coast that are more relaxed about business attire, the sight could prove conflicting. What’s the point of dress to impress if one is practically melting? In all honesty, it’s a useless question, because like it or not, you have to dress like that.

    Climate Change

    As a result of climate change, Japan’s seasons also started to change. Autumns and springs became shorter, winters warmer, and summers a long, unwelcoming hell. That’s why many were very confused when they heard that the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics were going to take place in summer (as a side note, the 1964 Olympics took place in the much milder month of October). To make things even more confusing, the 2020 Olympics will take place in August, the king of horrible summer months.

    2018 marked the biggest warning of what was to come. The 2018 Northeast Asia heat wave brought havoc to the Japanese archipelago, which had already been affected by terrible floods. The heat wave started on July 9, and lasted until August 26. It was an unusually long heat wave, totaling almost 2 months. The mercury hit record temperatures in many areas of Japan, and by the end 138 people had died, and 71,266 people had required hospitalization due to heatstroke.

    Similar weather patterns have been happening around the world, painting a picture where destructive floods, hurricanes, and heatwaves are the new normal.

    What’s Yet to Come

    2019 has so far proven to be a warm year. Winter was in fact warmer than the previous one, which made cherry blossoms bloom earlier than usual. Having had such a warm winter has been making people wonder what summer is going to be like, and whether another long and disastrous heatwave is imminent. One thing is certain, though, due to climate change, long summers and heat waves might be the new normal.

    After the 2018 heatwave, many thought officials were going to move the Olympics to another month for the safety of athletes and visitors, but the change never came; and at this point (with people being able to get tickets for the events), the ship has already sailed.

    Conclusion

    Sadly, we have crossed the point of no return, and without initiatives to tackle climate change, we can only expect Japanese summers to become hotter and deadlier.