Friday, August 28, 2015

Atsui desu, ne

It has been so hot for so long, without pause, I wonder if it will ever be cool again.  I've even forgotten the sensation of feeling cold.  Winter is a distant memory, and seems like a dream or maybe a voyage to another country.  I looked at my wool scarves in the closet and couldn't ever imagine needing those here in Kyoto.

It is a heat that makes you a little dizzy, a heat that makes you feel slightly sick.  It touches not only your body, but your mind.  It controls your every action, like a disease.  You can think of nothing else but the temperature.  It dominates conversation: atsui desu ne (it's hot, isn't it).  You hear this phrase over and over and over.  It is a reflex, like blinking.

The world even sounds different in the summer heat, a low, dull, mumble.  The science fiction soundtrack (circa 1955) provided by the hundreds of cicada in the trees makes you think the apocalypse is nigh.  You are sure the Earth is on a collision course with the sun.  It is only a matter of time before things begin to spontaneously combust, the city around you engulfed in flames.

There is always a note in the information pamphlets you get at temples and shrines about the structures burning down.  They are never specific as to the cause of the fires.  I'm sure now it is spontaneous combustion caused by summer heat.  I believe this may be the real reason the emperor moved the capital to Tokyo after more than a thousand years.  The royal family just couldn't take the summers anymore; they wanted a home in a slightly cooler locale.

Sweating while engaged in vigorous physical activity - sport, labor, etc. - is normal.  This heat is such that even perfectly static positions like sleeping somehow produce perspiration.  Eating, sitting, standing, reading, talking are all sweaty activities in Kyoto during the summer.

I now understand the semi-obsessive placement of vending machines dispensing beverages around the city.  It is not so much competition among beverage giants like Asahi and Suntory; it is something more noble - an attempt to save the population from fatalities like sun stroke and heat exhaustion.  The vending machines placed every 50 meters or so are aligned with the distance a human can walk in temperatures near 40°C (104°F) before needing to slake one's thirst.

I said something similar about the Kyoto winter last year: 17 summers in New York could not prepare me for summer in Kyoto.

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