Melting in Tokyo

As much as I lament the summer heat and humidity in Aomori, I really shouldn’t complain. Other parts of Japan have it much, much worse, as I was reminded when I skipped down to Tokyo a few weekends ago for Summer Sonic, an annual music festival held in Chiba and Osaka.

Usually, I like to get as much out of my time in the city as possible. It’s both time-consuming and expensive to get to Tokyo from the Great White North, so my schedule’s usually jam-packed. For this particular getaway, I’d planned to spend my days lounging in several parks, watching the sun set from Shinjuku’s Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, and just generally enjoying the sunshine.

Good morning, Shinjuku. This picture makes it seem like an overcast and dark day. If only...
Good morning, Shinjuku.

That plan evaporated about ten minutes after I stepped off of my nightbus into Shinjuku’s 30°C+ heat (that’s around 90°F, for those of you in America). And this was before 8 a.m. However, I decided to take an early stroll through one of the nearby parks to stretch my legs. About two minutes in, a bug the approximate size of my palm flew into my face, whereupon I decided that the rest of my day would be best spent in a cooler environment. (Preferably one not populated by giant drunken insects that decided my head would make a good landing zone.)

If I had it my way, I’d probably have spent the rest of the day just riding around Tokyo’s blissfully air-conditioned subway lines. You’d think that public transportation would be hell in the summer, especially in a city where close to 38 million people use the metro or other various railways per day. If that number sounds enormous, that’s because it is. For comparison, consider this: Germany’s railway systems are the most used in all of Europe. For the entire country of Germany, the daily ridership is around 10 million.

So you’d think that packing into a subway car on a hot August day would be torture, but so long as the cars weren’t packed, I’d have been happy to ride the Yamanote loop for eight straight hours. Unfortunately, my stomach had other ideas. I found a bakery, got some delicious carbs in my growling stomach, and made the ill-advised decision to sit outside while I planned the rest of my day. Even sitting in the shade, Tokyo’s heat is relentless.

I’ve got loads of respect for people who can exist in such an environment on a day-to-day basis. I felt like I was melting after only a few hours. Forgive my hyperbole, but it feels like it’s about eight thousand goddamn degrees, coupled with two hundred percent humidity. And somehow the city atmosphere, with all its asphalt, metal, and glass only makes it feel hotter. It’s like trying to breathe warm pea soup. Usually I find the hawkers on city streets annoying, but on summer days, when they’re handing out fans, I could hug them out of gratitude. (But I wouldn’t, because we’d both get even sweatier.)

After that, I decided that the rest of my morning would be spent in random stores until it was lunchtime. Originally I’d planned to go to an outdoor café in Meguro, but that wasn’t about to happen.  The combination of twelve hours on a bus, the heat, and a breakfast composed of fluffy bread had me famished, so I guiltlessly searched for buffet lunches. The first one that popped up was an Italian place that, if the reviews were to be believed, had one of the best buffets in the city. But really, the thing that lured me in was the 90-minute length, which meant that I’d have a chance to properly cool down.

Pretty good food and a cheap price tag (1500 yen for both food and drink) made Salvatore Cuomo a worthwhile choice.
Pretty good food and a cheap price tag (1500 yen for both food and drink) made Salvatore Cuomo a worthwhile choice.
You can tell how hungry I was from how haphazard my first plate of food was. (Yes, there was more than one.)
You can tell how hungry I was from how haphazard my first plate of food was. (Yes, there was more than one.)

Once I’d gotten my fill of salad, pizza, and cake, it was close enough to the check-in time at my hotel that I decided to just forgo the rest of my day’s plans in favor for a good shower and time spent relaxing in air conditioning. At the time, I felt a bit guilty about wasting time in Tokyo, but once I saw that the temperature had hit 35 degrees, I was ready to throw in the (sweat-soaked) towel. In hindsight, I think I made the right call, especially since I knew the next day at Summer Sonic would be long and hot. That sunset from the Metropolitan Government Building will just have to wait for a cooler day.

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