The difference between winter and summer in Japan couldn’t be more extreme. After spending June to September desperately trying to escape oppressive humidity, come November we find ourselves approaching a season so dry it feels like we’re in danger of crumbling into little pieces. And painfully itchy to go with it! Even when it rains!
Blame it on those dry air-masses from Siberia, but there’s not a lot we can do about that. What we can do, is take steps to bring a bit of extra moisture into our lives, and more specifically, into our skin. This is usually where the dryness bites most, although even breathing in the dry air can be a little uncomfortable. Of course, different people react in different ways, but it’s said that the most comfortable humidity levels are around 50-60%. At 30-40% humidity the skin begins to suffer and the common cold becomes more prevalent. Humidity in Tokyo has been known to drop as low as 9% (in summer it can top 80%)!
Here are some steps we can all take to make things more bearable.
Humidify Your Abode
There are a number of things we can do to prevent our quarters becoming more arid than the Atacama. Probably the easiest and most effective is to go out and buy a humidifier (加湿器/kashitsuki). Any electronics store that takes itself seriously will have them. They go for as cheap as 5,000 yen and can fetch over 100,000 yen (presumably for this kind of price you get a bit of kit that’ll make your place feel like the Amazon).
Maybe high maintenance for some, but houseplants will also take the sting out of the dryness.
Other methods include hanging your clothes to dry indoors, leaving the water in the bath, and placing bowls/pots/kettles of water next to/on any heat sources you may have. Make sure your container is heat-proof! It’s a little old-school these days, but if you have a gasoline stove, you can set a kettle of water on it and get some hot steam into the room.
Yes, this means you too fellas! Japan sells moisturizing cream just like anywhere else. Hands and lips are particularly susceptible to the dryness so it’s a good idea to carry some around with you. If regular moisturizer doesn’t do it, it’s time to crack open the hard stuff. Vaseline (sometimes written asヴァセリン)!! Available in Japan.
It’s bit of bummer, but taking long, hot showers will do you no good either. Yes, they feel great at the time but they’ll leave you dry as bone almost as soon as you step out, and if you’ve already been scratching that dry skin too much, the urge to scratch some more after a hot shower will require an iron will to resist. Keep them under five minutes, and turn the temperature down a notch.
Sure, gulping down water sounds like heaven in summer, but is perhaps not as appealing as a hot cup of coffee in winter. Still, it has to be done. Soups and teas will also help.
In terms of food, salmon, tuna, and tofu (all abundant in Japan) are thought to be good for the skin in winter.
Go To A Clinic
If your skin has hit the point of no return and none of the above works, it’s time to get to a clinic; a skin clinic, specifically. They’re pretty abundant. Keep an eye out, or do a web search, for 皮膚科/hifuka.
A number of places in Tokyo have English language websites. Just to get things started ...
Japanese insurance is accepted here
If you want to have a go at the Japanese ...
肌が乾燥してかゆいです。- hada ga kansou shite kayui desu. - I’m itchy from dry skin.
肌 - hada - skin
乾燥 - kansou - dry
かゆい - kayui - itchy
The word ‘dry’ is also widely understood (ドライ/do ra i).
If you have any other tips, or you know of a good clinic near you, share the wealth and send us a post.