Stewing in the cicada-serenaded soup of summer can be a trying time in Japan. During the hottest months, it would be easy to give up hope and melt away into a mess of sweat to emerge again only in autumn. There are many years I would have done just that, if it were not for the savior of summer, the greatest of August antagonists: clear, cold mountain rivers.

On a particularly hot and sweaty weekend, I decide to cool off at the flagship of Kyushu's swimming spots: Shishigawa Gorge, deep in the mountains of Miyazaki Prefecture. It has everything one could want from a swimming hole — except for a rope swing, but we'll forgive it this one shortcoming.

I arrive at the tiny parking area late in the morning and though the sun has yet to reach its peak, the day is already far too hot. It is a quick walk to the first of the gorge's cascading turquoise pools and though I plan to climb upstream to even more picturesque locations, the temptation to swim becomes too much: a preliminary dip is in order. At the pool's edge I take off my shirt, submerge myself in the crystalline waters — my feet reaching unsuccessfully for the pool's ridiculously deep bottom — and begin to relax.