From the very first summer day that I arrived in Kyoto, I found myself annoyed by all of the puddles I’d come across when walking through the street. Only the really big streets had sidewalks and for some reason, shopkeepers kept throwing buckets of water in front of their shops. Was it really necessary to keep washing the sidewalks?
It took awhile before I realized that this was purposeful and deliberate. It turns out that uchimizu it was just a way of dealing with the mushiatsui summer weather. The water would quickly evaporate and cool off the air above it. Or at least that was the theory.
You can’t mess with a Kyoto summer. Kyotoites will tell you that it is because Kyoto is a bonchi. In fact, they will often explain something away by saying “bonchi dakara.” Whatever the reason, summers could be dangerously hot even back then.
Nobody carried water bottles back then or paid for water. Instead you’d take advantage of the jidōhanbaiki that were found everywhere. I quickly learned how to interpret them without being able to read the labels. Of course a picture of an apple meant ringo jūsu, and an orange was orenji jūsu. After determining the type of juice you wanted to look for a % mark. You could find juice in 10%, 30%, 70% etc. Finding a 100% was rare, but as an American that was what I was accustomed to drinking. So I always hoped.
Carrying a small fan and a hankachi was also necessary. I marveled at the Japanese women in suits on the basu. I couldn’t bare to wear stockings or a jacket in this weather.
And though water on the sidewalks was okay, you would never see an open window on the basu if there was even the slightest drizzle outside. And, most basu did not have AC. You simply had to suffer in the sweltering heat.
That was a Kyoto summer and I survived all of mine without any AC and only a small senpūki. Happily it was all before chikyū ondaka.
- uchimizu – 打ち水 The deliberate sprinkling of water to cool the air. Does it really work? They say that even looking at the water should make you feel cooler….
- mushiatsui – 蒸し暑い humid, an adjective
- bonchi dakara – 盆地だから Bonchi means valley and dakara means because. This expression is used fondly by the people of Kyoto to justify anything about the weather.
- jidōhanbaiki – 自動販売機 vending machine. It’s a mouthfull, isn’t it! Literally automatic selling machine.
- ringo jūsu – リンゴジュース apple juice
- orenji jūsu – オレンジジュース orange juice
- hankachi – ハンカチ handkerchief
- basu – バス bus
- senpūki – 扇風機 electric fan. There are other words used for handheld fans depending on the type. I may get into that later.
- chikyū ondanka – 地球温暖化 Global warming. I had to look this one up because it is a totally new word for me. There may be a better and more popular word….