Summer greetings to all my friends and colleagues! This year as the heat rises, the shadows seem to be the safest place!
Yes indeed, the climate crisis, long predicted, is most definitely upon us, with UK temperatures reaching an unprecedented (word of the decade) 40 degrees in some places, just another one of the many serious catastrophes upon us, but by far the most serious.
I’m lucky to live in an older house, built in 1827, with front windows that still have their original wooden internal shutters, so I followed the general advice, which was to get up early, partially open the windows to allow cool morning air to circulate for a while, then as the sun rose higher, to shut everything, trap the cool air in, raise the shutters, close the blinds, and keep out the sun. I’m also lucky in that my work studio is the coolest room at the back of the house, so by such means I spent much of the two most blistering days largely indoors, in semi darkness or shade, and working away as usual. And it worked, the house remained much cooler than outdoors, but even so the air was unnaturally heavy with the heat.
And to think, this is just the middle of July, the summer has only just started.
Very hot summers are things I was pretty well used to in Japan, having experienced more sweltering, humid Tokyo summers than I can remember. But the UK isn’t set up for this kind of weather.
This isn’t an endorsement, but I have to say I actually don’t mind summer in Japan, humidity means the heat is dissipated to a degree, it’s a hazy heat, less burning, more like a sauna than a forest fire. Whereas in Europe, as I have pale skin, dryer air gives me sunburns, anything can cause a fire, and there’s no air conditioning. But at least we have lots of big trees, they are so important! We really need more in cities, they are a natural air conditioner and bring the temperatures down.
There’s not much tree cover in Tokyo, but there is man-made air conditioning, a LOT of air conditioning. Entering any shop you can instantly change from sweating in the heat, to being chilled by coolers cranked up to full blast (convenience stores in particular) that make your skin crawl. I’m not a fan of aircon’s, they are lifesavers in Japan, but are also unhealthy, not only because of bacteria building up in the filters, but for the environment too - all that heat is ejected out onto the street outside, making it even hotter. Some pedestrian crossings in Tokyo are lethal in the summer, as in addition to the hot air, white paint on buildings and the ground reflects glare into the faces of pedestrians, I always remember one particular crossing near Gotanda which knocked me out and blinded me at the same time.
The other big difference between Japanese summer and these heatwaves in the UK is the sound - or rather lack of it. In Japan, the constant buzz of cicadas fills the air all through the season, it’s a cacophony that’s inescapable, and to my nostalgic ears, reassuring. As the summer moves on the sounds change from a droning mi-mi-mi- to a bzz, bzz, bzz as different species of cicadas emerge from the ground, climb trees and metamorphosise into the rasping, "singing" insects that mark the season. If there were more trees in Tokyo the sound would be even more deafening, if there were cicadas in the UK, with all our greenery we would be driven to distraction!
I had hoped to go to Tokyo again this summer, but concerns about the pandemic persuaded me early on to yet again postpone. It's the longest I've been away from Japan since daughter and I moved back to the UK, so I miss it terribly, but I don't envy anyone in the worsening heat now. Different memories, different locations, but all is threatened by climate change. What of the future? We live in a delicately balanced climate that is changing by our own mismanagement, it's up to us to stop this now, time is running out.
A safe and enjoyable summer to all my friends, I'll be here throughout, pottering around at home if anyone is thinking of visiting!