Japan from the inside out

Heat beating

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, July 29, 2012

WHEN the heat begins to strain the limits of tolerance in east coast cities of the United States, municipal officials sometimes turn on the fire hydrants to let children frolic in the spray on the sidewalks and among the muck in the gutters.

The Japanese have a similar custom, but take a different approach. Summer heat here can be quite intense, particularly after the rainy season ends, as it did last week in Kyushu. I’ve often thought it would be a good idea to import the custom of early afternoon siestas, starting at my house.

The local solution is to dress up in yukata, line up on the streets, and splash them with water using the small bucket/scoops that are an essential part of the bath. Events such as these are conducted in cities throughout the country, and on the 25th it was held at 30 locations in Fukuoka City. Media attention focused on the splashing in the Tenjin commercial district, Kyushu’s largest. It started late in the afternoon at City Hall on a day that reached 33.9° C (93° F), and they splashed in a relay, moving from block to block. As many as 200 men and women participated at Tenjin, and shop clerks, staffers, and passersby also got into the act.

Other attractions included entertainment, stands selling sno-cones (that’s shaved ice for the linguistically fastidious) and other cooling refreshments, and ice sculptures. Greenbird Fukuoka, the NPO sponsoring the sprinkling, said the objective was to promote energy conversations, but that’s the sort of thing an NPO says out of a sense of duty. Everyone knows the real point is to have fun and create a shared experience while forgetting the thermometer at the same time.

The effect is more than psychological. The evaporation of water also eliminates heat, and reports say temperatures in the splashed districts fell two degrees by the time it was over.

Here’s what it looked like in Tokyo’s Ginza district four years ago. That boy who dumps some water over his own head halfway through has the right idea!

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