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How to prevent heatstroke while wearing a face mask in Japan

Tokyo gets hot in summer – here’s how to stay safe and protected in the heat

Kasey Furutani
Written by
Kasey Furutani

Japanese summers are filled with delicious ice cream, al fresco dining and getaways to nature retreats. However, all that outdoor fun gets hot, and this summer looks like a scorcher. The Japan Meteorological Agency has issued a nationwide heatstroke warning, with temperatures frequently reaching 40 degrees Celsius combined with high humidity.

The excessive heat is bad enough, but wearing a face mask due to Covid-19 coronavirus is an additional problem – the mask can trap heat around your mouth and nose, making summer even less comfortable. Here are some tips and tricks to avoid heat exhaustion and heatstroke while wearing a face mask – and still having some summer fun, of course.  

generic photo of iced tea
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Beware the humidity 

According to Keio University Health Center, heatstroke can occur in high humidity, even in temperatures under 30 degrees Celsius. If you’re out and about, remember to constantly rehydrate with water, a sports drink like Pocari Sweat or Aquarius or non-caffeinated iced tea such as mugicha (barley tea).

If you’re feeling dehydrated, OS-1, an oral rehydration solution available in drugstores, rebalances electrolytes in the body. It may not sound appealing, but salt candy, sold at convenience and drugstores, is also a tasty rehydration trick. When we sweat, we lose salt and electrolytes and the candy helps replenish your body’s store of the good stuff. 

Cloth face mask
Photo: Vera Davidova/Unsplash

Face mask quality makes a difference 

Save those paper-based, disposable masks for emergency situations. A light breeze can flow through reusable cloth masks, making you feel less suffocated in the summer heat. So take advantage of reusable masks – not only will it reduce mask waste, it will also keep your face feeling less stuffy and sweaty. There are plenty of reusable masks available at drugstores and online, or spend an afternoon DIY-ing. 

Tokyo landscape summer sun
Photo: Arto Marttinen/Unsplash

Sun protection 

When it’s not thundering, August in Tokyo is extremely sunny. Protect yourself from the rays by covering up with light layers and wearing a hat with a brim, which will also reduce the chance of getting a horrific face mask tan line. Parasols and special umbrellas with UV blocking will protect you while also making a fashion statement. 

Photograph: Courtesy Unsplash/Danielle Cerullo

Be careful when exercising 

When the weather began warming up in May, the Ministry of Health and Welfare started recommending you take off your mask if you’re outside and at least two metres away from others. It can be hard to maintain that crucial social distance, especially if you’re running or riding a bike, so instead of exercising outside, the ministry recommends exercising indoors in an air-conditioned place while wearing a face mask. 

If you’re thinking of going out, consult The Ministry of Environment’s Heat Stress Index, which gives warnings throughout the day on the risk of heat disease in Japan. According to The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, heatstroke symptoms include muscle aches, heavy sweating, nausea and fatigue. Heatstroke can affect people indoors and outdoors. If you're incapacitated, call 119 for an ambulance or rescue service.

Check our guide to going out safely in Tokyo.

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