Japan is hot in summer. I cannot stress that enough without melting into a puddle of self-defeat. The humidity makes the heat unbearable in ways you cannot imagine if you’ve not experienced it before. If you were wearing a winter coat in the Sahara, next to a couple of roaring ovens, while drinking a piping hot coffee, then you’re most likely mad and should check yourself into your nearest mental asylum. But suffice to say, such a mad person would probably enjoy a Japanese summer. The humidity builds up until you can feel its weight upon your skin, slowing you down to a sticky stupor. Your body gets coated in a permanent layer of sweat that will always return no matter how often you shower, and no matter the breeze. Your only salvation within this hellish weather runs on electricity and hums with optimistic ardour. The air conditioner is the only angel that can save you from this torture.
Close to the end of my stay in Yokohama, I was running low on funds. I needed to watch what I spent very carefully so that I wouldn’t need to dip into my savings for the following academic year. I sacrificed Book-Off, accepting the withdrawal symptoms so that my bank account could survive. I stopped going to parties that demanded 5000 yen nomihoudai (the perfect option for alcoholics and those with a desire for bankruptcy). I even spent much less on food, glorious food. And yes, I switched off my air conditioner. I was compelled to accept the heat within my bedroom in order to lower my utility costs. I was dying in there. There’s should be a law that you can’t leave your dog in a car during the summer; within that iron greenhouse they can easily die from the heat. So obviously there should also be a law or charity to help poor students who can’t afford to switch on their air conditioners. Lives are at stake here.
It was impossible to sleep under such heat. I laid atop the bed sheets. I slept naked. I even sprayed cold water across my body in a nightly ritual but nothing made it cool enough for me to drift to sleep. In under a week, I was exhausted and sleep deprived. I would switch on the air conditioner for 2 minutes before bed to temporarily cool the room; I’d have the next 2 minutes to fall asleep before I felt the humidity slap me awake again. But even this tactic was flawed in the long term. I would wake up at 2am, at 4am, at 6am as the room eventually heated up, cooking me slowly throughout the night. By morning I was ready to be served up for breakfast.
If I wanted to survive, let alone get a good night’s sleep, I needed to do something.
The library is a wonderful place. Quiet, full of books and a scene of tranquility. There’s a reason students go there to study. The library in our dormitory was slightly different. It was often noisy with our own chatter and games (including a variety of card games such as 21, poker and yugioh. The standard three that everyone knows). It was not full of books, with the exception of random books left behind by previous students such as foreign language dictionaries, a pre-school book on business and worryingly a very explicit hentai comic with a touch of sexual violence, which wasn’t very educational unless you were studying how to destroy any intimate relationship (on the same shelves, there was also a collection of cleaning products, mops and a pair of very old and dirty underwear. In order to move them you would need rubber gloves and an excess of courage. As far as I know, they’re still there. Ruling absolute). However, there was a sense of tranquility there. We would all gather in the evenings to study and hang out. It was the origin of 2am ice cream trips. It was the birthplace of ‘Potahto’, a word that brought as much joy to others as it did dread to me (derived from a discussion about the pronunciation of tomato, somebody asked if potato was pronounced similarly in two ways. Obviously terrible things followed this suggestion). The dormitory library was our sacred social ground when we first arrived in late Autumn. By the summer, we worshipped its holy ground for one glorious advantage it bestowed upon us. Free air conditioning.
It was icy cool in there, with sweetly thin air that you could gulp down, flowing effortlessly into your lungs. As soon as you opened the door however, the wall of heat would be there to greet you as you tried to cut through it. The library was the sanctuary in the eye of the humidity, and it was open all day and all night, seven days a week. True comprehension of those hours didn’t strike me until a few heat strokes later.
We would often stay in the library until 2am on average, before braving the Cecada stricken corridors back to our rooms. One evening when I made it back and felt the oppressive heat bludgeon me in my room, I turned heel and returned to the library, taking with me essential supplies. Toothbrush and toothpaste, a glass of cc lemon, and a pillow. The library had its own tiny sink and basin confined in the corner, that I used to clean my teeth. I have no idea why it was there. With the random books, abandoned underwear and limited furnishings, it seemed to be aspiring to be a budget hotel rather than a library. But you know, I’m proud that it was following its dreams, however ridiculously unrealistic they might initially seem to be because I intended to help it achieve them. The library was open all night with free air conditioning blasting away; it was the perfect place to sleep. I positioned the pillow at the end of the longest table, and my poncho to one side in case I needed a blanket or cushion to help get more comfortable during the night. In case the landlady entered, I left my notebooks and dictionary at the other end of the table, so that I had a slim chance to pretend that I was studying and accidentally fell asleep during the night. If the door opened, all I had to do was elegantly roll off the table and into a seat. If I made it smooth enough, I could make it look like I’d been sitting all along with just my head on the desk. Finally I would expertly pull the pillow behind me as I rolled (and if she saw it, the back-up explanation was simple. It was a cushion for the hard seats. A perfectly reasonable explanation for a flawless plan). With the lights off, I jumped onto the table and yelped when I suddenly remembered it was wood rather than a mattress. But this was not enough to deter my excitement. Nor was the coffin board-like surface that I was attempting to sleep on. I was going to sleep a full 8 hours and the summer had no power over me here.
In the morning, I awoke mildly parched thanks to the air conditioner but my glass of cc lemon was ready for me. My back was stiff and brittle enough that I could barely move but my satisfaction over sleeping was more than enough to drown that pain. With a groan I rolled casually onto my side and saw her with a start. A Chinese girl I hadn’t met before, another student at the university no doubt, stood by the door clutching books and laptop in her arms staring at me wide mouthed. When she opened the door, it must have woken me up. Thanks to the stiffness in my back I couldn’t really get up so I had to act casual. I smiled and wished her good morning in Japanese, flourishing off with a sleepy wave. She looked around her as though there would be somebody else to seek help from. When it was obvious that there was nobody else, she slowly backed out of the library. I never saw her come back again.
The weeks yearned on and I continued to spend my nights in the library. Glorious nights of unbroken sleep, undisturbed by the horror of the season. Sure my body set had into rigour-mortis every night lying on that cold wooden surface but in the morning all it took was some cc lemon, a shower, a mad scientist and a couple thousand volts of electricity and suddenly it was as though I’d been brought back to life.
But my glory was inevitably short lived. Before long, even this sanctuary was cruelly taken away.