Public health agency pleads with one group to take simple but critical precaution against heatstroke.

“It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity” is usually an accurate explanation for the profuse perspiration that takes place during the summer months in Japan. This month, though, it’s the heat and the humidity, which is making things not only extra sweaty, but even dangerous.

Since early August, the country has been experiencing a severe heat wave, with daytime temperatures in Tokyo climbing to 35 or even 36 degrees Celsius (95/96.8 degrees Fahrenheit). That’s roughly five degrees hotter than normal, and the harsh conditions have led to 2,576 people in Tokyo’s 23 central wards so far this month being taken to the hospital for emergency heatstroke treatment, 339 of them on last Monday alone.

The more troubling statistic, though, is the 79 people who have died from heatstroke since the start of August. Making that even more tragic is that Tokyo’s Bureau of Social Welfare and Public Health thinks many of those deaths were preventable. All of those who passed away were aged 50 or older, and the vast majority, 65 of them, had not been running the air conditioner in their homes when their heatstroke symptoms became severe.

Despite Japan’s image as a country that loves producing and using the latest gadgets, it’s not uncommon for older Japanese people to have an aversion to technological creature comforts, especially if they weren’t in widespread use during their own childhoods. Many older senior citizens, especially those who grew up in rural areas or in the hard economic times of World War II and its immediate aftermath, made do without home air conditioners in their youth. Their perception of air conditioning as a frivolous luxury, and even a potential source of vaguely imagined health maladies if over-relied on, often continues into their old age, making them reluctant to switch on their AC no matter how hot it gets.

In this case, though, living like they did back in the good old days isn’t good for their health, and the anti-AC attitude becomes especially risky at night. Because of Japan’s high humidity in the summer, the temperature doesn’t dip all that low once the sun goes down, but many seniors are opposed to the idea of running the air conditioning while they sleep. Out of the 79 heatstroke deaths in which the time of death could be determined, more took place during the night (between 5 p.m. and 5 a.m.) than the day.

Even when elderly Japanese people can be convinced to turn on the AC, they don’t always turn it down enough. Last week, a 92-year-old man in Ishikawa Prefecture was taken by ambulance to the hospital for heatstroke treatment. When asked if he’d been using his air conditioner, the man replied that he had, but with it set to 31 degrees Celsius (87.8 degrees Fahrenheit).

With Japan’s heat wave expected to continue, the Bureau of Social Welfare and Public Health is cautioning citizens against trying to just tough it out, and urging them to use their air conditioners not for comfort, but for the sake of their own health and safety.

Sources: Jjji Tsushin via Livedoor News, Livedoor News/Hokuriku Shimbun
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert image: Pakutaso
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