Tokyo is one of those cities that is freezing during the winter and sweltering in the summer. It seems like there’s no way to win. So rather than spending the Tokyo summer months complaining about the electricity bill draining your finances, here are six cheapo tricks to stay cool in the summer without racking up the bills.
1. Invest in a good ice pillow
Ice pillows are one of those Japanese inventions I’m surprised the rest of the world hasn’t picked up. The idea is pretty simple—it’s an ice pack you use as a pillow. The cheapest kinds can be purchased at most 100 yen shops and are basically large, kind of soft ice packs. The more expensive kinds can be found at department and drug stores. They are a mix of hard and soft ice and often come with an insulated pillow cover.
The ice pillow keeps your head (and therefore the rest of your body) cool while you sleep. In the morning, simply pop it back into the freezer and let it sit until bedtime.
2. Air out the house in the morning
The first time I left a window open overnight to air out the house, my husband was shocked. “Someone might break into the house and murder us while we’re sleeping!” he told me. I laughed. After all, it’s Tokyo. Even so, he didn’t feel comfortable keeping all our windows open overnight. I’m all down for marital harmony; instead, the first person awake is now in charge of airing out the house.
If we open all the windows and doors throughout the apartment, we can get a good breeze going. Add in a couple of strategically placed fans, and we have a nice, cool house. That “natural cool” stays good at least until noon. I’m surprised by how many people don’t bother to air out their house early in the morning. That fresh air is free and it tastes delicious.
3. Switch out your sheets for the “cool type”
Surprisingly enough, the “cool type” mattress covers make a real difference. I was skeptical when my husband came home with them our first summer in Tokyo because really, how much of a difference can a mattress pad actually make?
Answer: a big difference!
You can pick up “cool type” mattress and pillow covers (if you decide ice pillows aren’t your style) at most department or home stores.
4. Layer with Uniqlo’s AIRism
Laying in the summer? I promise, this is a surprisingly brilliant way to stay cool in the sweltering heat—as long as you choose the “correct” layers. My go-to layering shirts are the thin AIRism tank-tops for Uniqlo. My husband prefers the AIRism white undershirts.
I’m sure you’ve seen the ads. In fact, as I’m typing this on the fourth floor of a McDonalds in Shinjuku (cheap coffee and plenty of air conditioning), I’m staring at one of the ads towering over Kabukicho.
The Uniqlo AIRism shirts are excellent a whisking away sweat, leaving you cool and comfortable.
Cheapo Tip: Buy your AIRism shirts on weekends, when Uniqlo runs most of their sales.
5. Try the “cool wipes” from any drug store
Most drug stores have a small section of an aisle devoted to the many “cool wipes.” Try any of them. They leave a nice tingling and cool feeling for about an hour after use. Personally, I prefer the unscented kind.
Another option is cans of cooling spray or gel.
6. (Don’t) Eat unagi – freshwater eel
Note from our editor: While there is a tradition of eating eel in summer in Japan, there are serious sustainability issues – it’s an endangered species, with Seafood Watch recommending consumers avoid it. So don’t eat it!
Eel has long been rumored to have special properties that make your body more resilient to the heat in the summer. I’m not sure how true this is, but I think eel is absolutely delicious and I certainly feel better after eating it.
There is no way to avoid the sweltering summers in Tokyo (unless you decide to spend the summers in Hokkaido—although even Hokkaido is looking pretty sauna-like these days). But you can make the heat more bearable by getting creative and embracing the unique, cheap and useful Japanese summer products.
Bonus idea: Buy a Japanese hand fan
Sometimes you just gotta go back to basics…because it really does work! Spend the minute amount of 100 yen for hand fan—it becomes crucial anytime you must step away from the comfort of air conditioning.
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