Zen spaces, Zen mindset
You could see it in every tourist’s eyes as they fanned their sweaty faces: I want out of the sun, now. In times like this, a Japanese concept is a useful balm. Mono no aware can perhaps best be summed up in the phrase “this too shall pass”, the notion that all things are beautiful, fleeting and temporary – even sweltering heat. In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Tokyo-based journalist Richard Lloyd Parry, who wrote a book about the 2011 Japanese tsunami, theorised that exposure to extreme weather has moulded Japan’s national character. Earthquakes, punishing seasons, typhoons – “all this has bred a deep strain of fatalism or acceptance [in the Japanese psyche]”.
If achieving the ever-accepting state of mono no aware seems unachievable in high temperatures, be like a local and head to a real Zen space. In Kyoto, the Heian Jingu Shrine garden is a literal breath of fresh air. Shaded by maple and cherry trees and ribboned by a cool pond, the park feels like a door to a calmer dimension. Its centrepiece is the aptly named Bridge of Peace, whose dark, creaking eaves are filled with hundreds of furin glass chimes. Often dotted around temples as a symbol of protection against evil, the ringing notes of furin act as a gentle reminder of cool winds. Surrounded by these chimes, with fat koi swimming lazily in the water below, I can attest that their sound felt like respite.
Fashion: Ultra-baggy and fan-powered
Whether in baking street markets or Shinto shrines, tourists cope by shedding layers. Singlets, crop tops and shorts became our way of recognising fellow visitors. Conversely, many locals were swathed in cloth. Yuri Cath, who was raised in Yokohama, explained that apart from allowing air to circulate around your limbs freely, loose clothes are a nod to the country’s conservative fashion mores. “It’s still frowned upon to wear revealing clothing in Japan,” Cath said, “so people get creative with cooler layering, while still looking stylish.”