This article was originally featured in the April 2024 issue of Connect.

Nomfundo Amanda Zondi (Hokkaido)

Well folks, we made it to what I think is the best season in Japan–spring! Here’s to yummy food eaten under the cherry blossoms, a vast array of gorgeous blooms, and, of course, warmer and longer days. Bye-bye seasonal depression and hello to sweltering heat as we move into summer. Being from the southern hemisphere, I am no stranger to sweltering heat, but humidity? I am not used to it. Before arriving in Japan, I had no idea what to expect weather-wise. I, ignorantly, thought since it is an island, it must have really nice summery weather and a constant cool sea breeze. Of course, there are places and times where you can get this type of weather. However, nothing prepared me for the humidity in Japan. If you were here last summer, you remember how rough it was. And that is me speaking from the perspective of one who is based in Hokkaido, so I cannot imagine what the situation was in the southern parts of Japan. 

I was especially excited for summer after what felt like the winter from Game of Thrones here in the north of Japan. I imagined myself in cute summer dresses, shorts, sleeveless tops and getting fried by the sun, after applying a thick layer of sunscreen, of course. However, I was surprised to see how the Japanese tackle the summer. After talking to the locals, I realised that East Asian beauty standards encourage this hypervigilant form of sun protection. With beauty being synonymous with being fair, it was no wonder Japanese ladies go through so much effort to shield themselves from the sun’s harsh rays. Albeit, I found it a little funny, as in the southern hemisphere being tan just means you spent some time in the sun, probably on the coast, sipping on some delicious summer drinks. In the West, having a beautiful bronze glow is something to be desired. Nonetheless, prolonged exposure to the sun can have undesirable side effects. These include accelerated ageing, the appearance of blemishes such as sun spots, it increases your chances of developing skin cancer, and of getting heat stroke. So how do the Japanese stay safe in the heat of summer?

High sun protection factor (SPF) sunscreen is a must-have. This seems like an obvious move but many of us do not wear enough sunscreen, if we wear any at all. We wake up, slap it on in the mornings, and keep it moving. Did you know that you are meant to reapply sunscreen every two hours, especially after breaking a sweat or swimming? Well, now you do. Japanese sunscreen is highly regarded as it contains ingredients that are not yet legal in the U.S. and Europe. These include Tinosorb, which offers wide spectrum protection against the sun’s rays, and Mexoryl, which is famously known for its superior protection against UVA rays. With people being more aware of the effects of the sun on their skin, many products with SPF are now available such as moisturisers and foundations. A popular item in Japan is the sunscreen stick, which is easy to carry in your bag and to apply, making it more convenient to keep up with applying it every two hours. 

Even in Hokkaido, with the cooler than average summer temperatures, I was surprised by the summer fashion donned by the ladies. In Western cultures, summer means wearing very little fabric. However, in Japan, you will find person after person wearing long sleeved shirts over dresses and tank tops, big hats, and an interesting mask that hangs down like a veil to your chest. I was especially fascinated by how many women would wear long sleeved fingerless gloves to shield their arms from the sun. Japanese sun protection, seemingly, is on a whole new level. Protective clothing is a pertinent part of preparing for the summer. I was fascinated to find that, during the summer months, Uniqlo offers a range of clothing that is strictly to protect you from the sun’s harmful rays. Nevertheless, let’s say you want to use your clothes to protect you from the sun this summer but are not willing to break the bank and go buy new clothes. How can we use the clothes we have to protect us? 

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation of America, the factors we have to take into consideration are the colour, construction, content, ultraviolet protection factor (UPF), fit and coverage of our clothes, as well as the activity we are doing in them. (1) To get the best possible protection, your garments should be black or colourful as these tend to absorb light instead of it penetrating your skin. Fabrics which are opaque are preferable to sheer materials, which let light through them. To test your clothes for this, you can put them up in the light and the less light that shines through, the better. In terms of content, the manner in which fabrics are made is also important. Unbleached cotton contains natural lignins or plant compounds which are effective in absorbing the sun’s rays. Shiny polyesters and lightweight satin or silk is also effective as it reflects radiation. The UPF of garments indicates how well an item can protect you from UV rays. For example, if an item is said to have a UPF of 40, it means it can protect the skin covered by it from 90% of the sun’s rays. At Uniqlo, items with UPF can be found should you be interested in them this season. (2) The fit of clothes seemingly can have a dual function: aeration (from loose-fitting clothing) and sun protection. The reason being, tighter clothes are more likely to stretch out, which then allows the sun’s rays through. It seems obvious that the coverage of one’s clothes determines how protected you are. So opt for longer sleeves and pants this summer to ensure that you are in the green. Be mindful that no matter how high the UPF of your clothing may be, if your clothing gets wet or stretched out it will lose some of its ability to shield you and become more transparent hence exposing you to the sun.

We can’t talk about summer and not mention accessories! Perhaps this summer you will fancy one of those adorable hand-held fans or a brightly coloured umbrella for when you are walking and the sun is beating down. Wherever you are in Japan, I hope you are able to beat the sweltering heat this summer. 

Source List

  1. Sun Protective Clothing
  2. Uniqlo’s UPF/UV Product Information

Nomfundo is a second-year ALT from South Africa based in Hokkaido. She studied Dietetics and Human Nutrition in university. Her approach to health and wellness is multifaceted as she believes it comprises more than the food we eat. She enjoys writing poetry, going to art galleries, going to live concerts, and being in nature. In her spare time, she produces a podcast “The Sun in Japan” to help uplift others through storytelling. Connecting with people is her passion and learning more about the world and what brings us together as a human race.