In the northern British town where I grew up, the sun was a rare thing. As soon as it appeared, provided it was at least mildly warm, grown men would wander around shirtless, allowing blue skin stretched over abundant bellies to become a painfully scorched red. These were tough men who believed the use of sun cream almost certainly indicated homosexuality. In our house, at the first sign of sunshine my mother would scream, ‘Look at the weather! Get yourselves outside, kids!’ and my brothers and I would be swept into the garden and encouraged to prance around under a lawn sprinkler or suck on frozen Kwenchy Cups bought from the local sweet shop. Sun and heat, we were led to believe, were resources never to be wasted, never to be taken for granted.
This is an indoctrination that I have carried into adulthood and, now, while most of the people in my adopted country of Japan moan daily about the heat, I can’t help but feel privileged to be able to experience it each and every year. It is hot, it is humid, I am constantly drenched in sweat, and I love it.
In the morning I am greeted by cicadas buzzing louder than any alarm clock I may need. My wife finds them annoying. For me, I am put in mind of happy childhood holidays to Spain and that electric buzz that filled the air as the temperature rose. It makes me feel as though I am in an exotic place, for when I hear cicadas I know I am not going to look out of the window and see a W.H Smiths or a Greggs the baker. I’ll probably see an old lady walking by with a parasol. I don’t particularly enjoy the sweat stains that may form on my clothes, but I do enjoy the chill that forms on my back when I enter a convenience store, the relief that comes from stepping out of the heat for just a few moments to regather, to readjust. And I like the first bead of sweat that trickles down my back when I head out for the evening because, again, I am reminded of holidays from the past. Not Spain with my family, this time, but later holidays in hot European climes with friends; holidays where that bead of sweat was the starting pistol for a fantastic night out in foreign bars and clubs full of strangers all as excited about their night out as we were.
I don’t frequent bars and clubs as much as I once did, but I still enjoy a humid walk. Yes, you get drenched in your own salty effluents but that is not a bad thing, for it makes a cold shower upon your return all the more wonderfully refreshing. And if you are really lucky, or just live in the country, you are likely not too far from a river or waterfall into which you can tumble and splash. I have several places nearby where I can freely soak in a cool natural pool, and where there are neither rules nor an overabundance of squealing adult-children clinging onto inflatable floatation devices. In these pools I enjoy the sheer sensual pleasure that comes from wet and dry, hot and cold.
But best of all, the thing that really makes the summer for me, is the fact that after the cold shower or waterfall splash, I can slip into a jinbei, crack open an ice-cold beer, and sit in an easy camping chair in the garden, listening to the delightful ring of the suzumushi and munching on cold, salted edamame. There are few things I enjoy more and it just wouldn’t be the same without the tropical heat as accompaniment.
The summer is as wonderful as it is long. But then, one day, you step outside and notice that you aren’t sweating and there is a slight coolness to the morning that has been absent for a while. And you smile as you realize that autumn has come. The summer is good, but I am always glad to see it go. I am glad because I know it will be back next year and I am glad because its disappearance will make me enjoy it all the more when it does finally roll around once more.
We still have a little while to go before the ‘Atsui desu ne’ greetings come to an end but I don’t mind at all. I greet with a smile because for this boy brought up in Britain ‘Atsui desu ne’ should never be uttered in whiny grievance.