Business

Portable fans flying off shelves as Japan deals with another scorching summer

by Junko Horiuchi

Kyodo

As the unrelenting heat continues, people young and old are resorting to a low-tech way to stay cool this summer: portable electric fans.

Stores selling the fans, some of which conveniently attach to the neck or wrist, say they are selling at a brisker pace than last year and have become the latest trend in ways to beat the heat.

While the minifans were popular with young women last year, this year’s deadly temperatures have prompted people of all ages to seek them out for relief.

“We have many products to fight heat, such as foldable fans, cooling sprays and cooling bandanas, but this year the portable fans are the most popular among such items. They have become the norm in the Japanese summer,” said Kazuyuki Yamada, a spokesman for the lifestyle department of department store Tokyu Hands Inc.

This season, the store began selling about 100 types of portable electric fans in April — around double the number from last year. As of Aug. 8, Tokyu Hands had sold 180,000 units nationwide, a threefold jump from 2018.

The fans, some as light as 80 grams and priced from ¥1,500 ($14) to ¥2,000, come with mobile battery chargers, power adjustment switches and aroma diffusers. Many are foldable and come with clips that can be attached to bags or tables.

But the hot item this year is a fan that can be strapped around one’s neck, Yamada said.

“The ones with light-emitting diodes, which were introduced this year, can be used in the dark, such as at fireworks festivals. YouTubers who do not want to sweat when filming outdoors are buying them, too,” he said.

Interior goods retailer Franfran Corp. has developed new models that are quieter and more powerful after selling over 100,000 fans from April to August last year. This year’s tally was at 600,000 units as of Aug. 8 — a nearly sixfold increase.

“Consumers are using the fans everywhere, when commuting, during sports or at home, after taking a bath, for instance,” said Franfran spokeswoman Aya Shimomura. “Interestingly, some parents are using them to cool food, such as for babies.

“The popularity of the portable fans reminds me that miniheaters or minihumidifiers for desktops were a hit in the winter,” Shimomura said. “It shows that more people are looking to create a comfortable personal space because how one feels about temperature differs from person to person. Some people are more adaptable to heat or cold than others.”

Retailers hope the portable fans will also be used by tourists visiting for the Rugby World Cup this September and the Tokyo Olympics next July.

Also the recent boom in outdoors activities, including camping, music festivals and pop culture events, is expected to further raise demand, shop operators say.

This summer’s temperatures are similar to last summer’s, with many observation points logging highs of 35 degrees or above.

In the week that began on July 29, nearly 60 people died from heat-related maladies across the country. Those taken to hospitals more than tripled to 18,347 from 5,664 the previous week, leading to the second-highest tally since 2008, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency.

Last July, the city of Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture, broke the nationwide record with a high of 41.1.