As we make the shift from 梅雨 (tsuyu, rainy season) to 夏本番 (natsu honban, summertime in earnest), you’ll find that the weather will take center stage in many Japanese conversations. In fact, at this time of year people are more likely to swap out the usual こんにちは (konnichiwa, hello) for a more straightforward 暑いですね (atsui desu ne, it’s hot, isn’t it) or 蒸暑いね (mushiatsui ne, it’s humid) as a bit of an icebreaker (or an ice-melter in this case).
On the other hand, if you really want to complain about summer — which most Japanese will tell you gets hotter, wetter and longer with each passing year — try sticking the term かなわない (kanawanai, unbearable/unbeatable) on adjectives like 暑い (atsui, hot): 暑くてかなわない (atsukute kanawanai, I can’t take the heat) is a phrase you’ll hear often once we hit 梅雨明け (tsuyuake, the end of the rainy season) and the thermometer spikes to well over 30度 (sanjū do, 30 degrees Celsius).
With kanji, かなわない can be written as 敵わない and has the meaning of being bested by an opponent. Another kanji used for the same word is 叶わない, and it is used when wishes and hopes go unanswered, as in 願いが叶わなかった (negai ga kanawanakatta, my wishes went unanswered). When it comes to complaining about the heat you can use both kanji, but most people stick to using hiragana.
Another way to describe the unbearable summer heat is by using the term 耐え難い (taegatai, intolerable). Notice the use of 難い (gatai, difficult to accomplish) after the word 耐える (taeru, to endure). 難い is a notch above the similar suffix にくい (nikui) on the pain scale — the kanji after all, is 難 which means “catastrophe” or “disaster.” Therefore, you might say この暑さは耐え難いです (kono atsusa wa taegatai desu, this heat is unbearable) but probably not この暑さはたえにくい (kono atsusa wa taenikui, this heat is hard to endure). The にくい suffix works better after simple verbs such as やる (yaru, to do), as in この暑さでは運動会はやりにくい (kono atsusa de wa undōkai wa yarinikui, it’s difficult to do a sports day in this heat).
If you think the heat’s bad, the cold relief summer has to offer isn’t much better. The side effects of 冷房 (reibō, air conditioning) can cause unexpected 体調不良 (taichō furyō, physical ailments). Tell a Japanese friend that you’re sleeping with the エアコン (eakon, an abbreviation of “air conditioner”) on and they’ll likely warn you of 冷房病 (reibōbyō, air conditioning sickness). If someone you know is looking uncomfortable in a chilly room, offer to turn it up: 冷房を上げようか？ (Reibō o ageyō ka?, Shall I turn up the air conditioner?). Setting the thermostat to 27 degrees is the accepted temperature under the クールビズ (Kūru Bizu, Cool Biz) mandate set by the government. That initiative was an attempt to get office workers to cool down by encouraging them to forego the traditional suit jacket-and-tie combo that caused many to work up a sweat.
環境を守るために (Kankyō o mamoru tame ni, In order to protect the environment), Cool Biz aims to curb energy use. After all, 気候変動 (kikōhendō, climate change)and 地球温暖化 (chikyū ondanka, global warming) are what’s causing many of us to really sweat these days. 水を節約するために (Mizu o setsuyaku suru tame ni, In order to conserve water) it’s good to keep showers short, and 心地良い温度を保つために (kokochiyoi ondo o tamotsu tame ni, in order to stay comfortably cool) you may be better off reaching for a glass of iced tea instead of the remote control to the air conditioner.
Climate change can also manifest in sudden episodes of ゲリラ豪雨 (gerira gōu, guerrilla rainstorms). If you’re watching or listening to the weather forecast, be on the alert for the word 崩れる (kuzureru, collapse). 天気が崩れやすいです (Tenki ga kuzure-yasui desu, The weather will easily collapse) means you may be in for unexpected and often violent rain showers that can last from 30 minutes to an hour.
These days, many Japanese claim they are able to bear the heat more than these guerrilla rainstorms, which can turn into full-fledged 豪雨 (gōu, heavy rains) in a matter of minutes. After all, 水浸しになるくらい嫌なことはない (mizubitashi ni naru kurai iyana koto wa nai, there’s nothing so awful as getting drenched).
Note the くらい after 水浸し. When combined with the final ない in the sentence it results in the “nothing is as” grammatical structure. くらい can be exchanged for ほど, particularly on more formal occasions: 夜にぐっすり眠れることほど良いことはない (Yoru ni gussuri nemureru koto hodo yoi koto wa nai, There’s nothing as good as a decent night’s sleep) or 母の手料理ほどおいしいものはない (haha no teryōri hodo oishii mono wa nai, there’s nothing as delicious as my mom’s cooking).
At the time of writing this article, I would give anything for a bit of sunshine. Tokyo has had a record stretch of gray weather this month and, despite the impending heat and humidity, 梅雨明けほど嬉しいことはない (tsuyuake hodo ureshii koto wa nai, nothing brings me as much joy as the end of rainy season).
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5