Damn, it’s hot!

My daily walk to the shops has become somewhat of trek through the Arabian Desert. A scene reminiscent of Lawrence of Arabia. A sort of Lawrence of Hiroshima, if you will. Yep, the sun has been set to “Incinerate” mode as Japan experiences a historic heatwave with record-breaking temperatures reaching 41.1 degrees. After the recent devastating flooding and landslides in Western Japan, which left 225 people dead and more than $6 billion in property damage, it seems that “Mother Nature” refuses to let-up. More than 70 people have died and more than 22,000 have been hospitalised due to the persistent heat. And it doesn’t seem as though it’ll get cooler anytime soon.  That’s a slight concern seen as though August is usually Japan’s hottest month, and it’s still July.

Air-conditioning is the almighty saviour. Yet not everyone has it. Those living in cooler regions of Northern Japan don’t usually experience these insane temperatures and thus haven’t seen the need for one until now. Meanwhile, only around 42% of public elementary and middle schools have air conditioning. I previously worked in schools that had no AC, and instead had a set of ineffective fans attempting to cool the students. Those particular schools insisted that as long as the students suffered from the heat, then the teachers would too. So the staff room’s air-conditioning wouldn’t be turned on until the students had left for the day. The reasoning may be economic and/or environmental, but there’s a distinct mindset in Japanese society to improve one’s moral resolve by enduring. In this case, blistering temperatures. But I’d rather they just install AC so students wouldn’t complain all the time.

Experts have warned that this could well be the “new normal” for the country. A truly terrifying thought for the future. 

My Summer Holiday in Hindsight

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Hirakubo Lighthouse in Ishigaki

I’m currently sat in the teachers’ office, while the students practice for their sports festival in 30°C heat and 90% humidity. It’s still very much summer over here in Japan even with Daiso (100円 store) and various supermarkets displaying Halloween decorations and autumn colours. I begrudgingly came back to work last Thursday, tired but tanned. And as soon as I reached to open my shoe locker, I was bombarded with questions from my teachers asking me “How was your Summer?”

I wrote a blog post back in July complaining about my “Summer Holiday Blues” while stuffing my face with ice cream and watching crappy Michael Bay films, the epitome of happiness. “Oh the humanity!”. One and a half months of holiday, “Oh, the pain of it all!”. A true punishment from the powers above. But in hindsight, I actually did have a pretty eventful summer holiday in Japan despite my initial outcry;

-Bought a new camera.

-Climbed to the top of Mt. Fuji.

-Went to the beach twice.

-Travelled to Ishigaki in Okinawa.

-Canoed amongst the mangroves.

-Trekked up a waterfall.

And had plenty of ice cream

Of course, I was instructed to give a talk about my “Summer Vacation” to the students.  So I presented a selection of photos that I had taken during my trips with my superb narration. While many were in disbelief over my “professional” photography skills, the frequent phrase uttered was “いいね〜” (“how nice” or “lucky”). Consequently I asked the students, in English, “What did you do during your summer vacation?”. There were a couple of prominent answers; 1) Studying  2) Going to the Fireworks Festival and 3) Nothing.

Unlike many fortunate Brits back home, most Japanese families don’t travel to another country or fly to the beaches along the Costa Del Sol. My father was a solicitor and had the benefit of a large chunk of holiday time, so we would often go abroad during the summer. We flew everywhere from America to Norway, we were very fortunate enough to travel regularly. It’s clear that Japanese people can’t indulge in that luxury. It’s a case that the average office worker struggles to get consecutive days of time off, and is forced to persevere through the excruciating heat and banality. Not even teachers are given the comfort of a real summer holiday. Instead they continue to march to school, fill out paperwork and complete training. Obon is Japan’s real summer vacation during August in which families return to their ancestral relatives’ homes in order to pay their respects to the departed. But with only four or five days off, and living on the other side of the world to Europe or America, many only venture short distances. The lack of time-off is one of my fears of working in a real, Japanese environment.

In regards to homework, I can’t recall it being as brutally intense as it is over here in Japan. In fact at junior high school level, the students are expected to come for a week of lessons halfway through their vacation. Many students actually go to summer schools and cram schools further showcasing adolescent Japan’s stressful education period. I remember writing an essay or two, but nothing that induced the sheer hardship experienced by Japanese students.

So yeah, in the end I did have an enjoyable summer holiday. Sure my exercise regime fell through; hard to imagine when you travel to a region famous for it’s yakiniku barbecue and Blue Seal ice cream brand. And I failed to watch a fireworks display, a quintessential event in Japan during the  summer. But I can’t really complain after hearing the exciting tales of adventure from the students. I’m sure it won’t be long until the “Post-Summer Holiday Blues” will hit, along with the cold weather.

The Summer Holiday Blues

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With the Summer Holiday’s in full swing, I’ve found myself increasingly frustrated and restless. I’m only managing to sleep about 4/5 hours on a “good day”, but I don’t necessarily feel tired. I just feel unmotivated and rather glum. A month ago, you would have heard me saying “Why can’t the summer holidays start sooner?”. But now, dare I say it, I want to go back to work.

Back when I was a kid, the summer holidays were the best. Meeting up with friends, going on family vacations and not having a care about the encroaching school term. But now that I live on the opposite side of the world and have entered “adulthood”, the notion of “wasted time” is becoming more of an anxiety of mine. It may seem shallow for my young self to complain about the luxury of having a month holiday, but I’d guarantee that if you were in the same situation; in 35°C heat, without a car and with all you friends still working, you’d probably feel the same. Mind you, this Summer hasn’t entirely been boring. Back in mid-July, I successfully climbed Mt. Fuji with a couple of friends, and two weeks ago my girlfriend and I drove to Tsunoshima for a day trip. In the eyes of many people, that would seem like a pretty eventful holiday. But with this amount of time off, I feel that I should be doing more.

Currently, there’s a lot going on in my head. From the important; my finances and my future, to the laughably trivial; what to cook for dinner, these have become my “daily worries”. But understand this, I’m a guy that tends to fret and contemplate over everything. I rarely back my choices a hundred percent, which can be both a blessing and a curse.

“Well there’s no use just sitting there doing nothing”, and I wholeheartedly agree. I’m also not an individual who would comfortably spend an entire week stuck in his apartment. Back at university it was so simple; either go to the pub with my friends, go watch a film at the cinema or play video games. Yet here in Japan, it’s a bit more difficult to deal with. It’s not culture shock, it’s not that I miss a can of Heinz Baked Beans (which I do) and it’s certainly not that I miss what’s going on it Britain, except for my family.

I like to travel, see and do things either alone or with friends. Whether that be hiking in the mountains or visiting historical buildings, I like to do stuff. My mother suggested I get a part-time job, or maybe do some tutoring (which I did last year) but I’m hesitant to do so. I’ve recently tried to follow an indoor exercise regime to lose some weight and build some muscle. While it hasn’t proved to be successful in reducing the kilos, I certainly feel more fitter. I used to jog when I got frustrated, but with temperatures reaching the mid 30s in Japan, I’m afraid my brain would melt and pour from my ears. I’m currently sat in my apartment at a temperature of 26°C, while outside its about 34°C. As a Brit, anything above 20°C is deemed too hot, and necessitates t-shirts to be removed in public, not the case in Japan though.

Photography has provided an outlet, and so too has this blog. Like I said in my previous blog post, taking pictures has been genuinely satisfying, and writing about my thoughts and getting them out there has provided something of a mental workout. My girlfriend has been a saving grace, but with her own turmoils and pressures to deal with, I feel guilty when complaining about my insignificant issues. It’s not all doom and gloom though. I’m going on holiday with her in late August, which seems miles away. We’re off to Ishigaki, Okinawa which will be pretty awesome. Let’s just hope that the weather will stay like it has been.

So is this just seasonal depression? Or the heat? Or is it just a symptom of being a miserable Brit? Well who knows, but I hope the rest of my summer vacation, and yours, will be relaxing and eventful.

How do you guys deal with this sort of lull?