Sunday, July 3, 2011

03/07 VOX POPULI: Sweltering days ahead mean reviving heat-beating tricks

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a daily column that runs on Page 1 of the vernacular Asahi Shimbun.

Summer's brutal heat can get unbearable even for cats, laments the feline protagonist of the novel "Wagahai wa Neko de Aru" (I Am A Cat) by Natsume Soseki (1867-1916).

The cat longs to strip off his fur and pare his flesh to the bones to get relief from the oppressive heat. He fantasizes about getting his fur washed and blow-dried. He wishes he could fan himself, and complains his paws aren't designed to hold a fan. There is something humorous about his litany of grievances, but you also feel sorry for him.

Summers must have been as unbearably rough on cats in the Meiji Era (1868-1912) as this summer is about to become for us humans. Record high temperatures for the season have already been registered around the country. It looks like the god of summer has been dropping his calling card everywhere, warning us of another scorcher.

The "tsuyu" rainy season ended in southern Kyushu in record haste, and the nation is now bracing for sweltering days without being able to guzzle electricity.

The government on July 1 issued an energy consumption restriction order, the "denryoku shiyo seigen-rei," to businesses and major power consumers serviced by Tokyo Electric Power Co. and Tohoku Electric Power Co. The order is for a 15 percent cut in power usage. Perhaps because "seigen-rei" sounds similar to "kaigen-rei" (martial law) and "toka kansei" (blackout), I have toughened my resolve to meet the summer head on.

Private households are also asked to aim for a 15-percent drop in energy use. This is easy to achieve by not using power-guzzling air conditioners. However, there is a limit to anyone's ability to endure high temps with stoic patience. It is not healthy, either. The best way is to try to save energy in small ways wherever possible. Even little savings do add up.

The monk Kenko Hoshi, author of "Tsurezuregusa" (Essays in Idleness), held that houses should be designed with the heat of summer in mind. His reasoning was that there are ways to ward off winter chills, but nothing can be done about the relentless summer heat. I couldn't agree more.

Our forebears came up with all sorts of tricks to survive Japan's oppressively humid summers. Those tricks became forgotten after we started relying on ubiquitous air conditioners, but I understand they are now back in vogue.

We may gripe and complain about the heat in the coming days, but I believe we should be able to get some relief if we go back to the ways of our forebears.

--The Asahi Shimbun, July 2

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.

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