These few months in Japan with record-breaking temperatures have almost been unbearable to me as I endure my first summer here since 1981. For me, the summer already started in late May with the air getting sticky, and by June I felt like escaping to the North Pole.
When going out on hot days, I made sure to put on a white hat with a brim large enough to give me shade over my face. However, I soon realized that even a hat like that could not keep me comfortable on sweltering days. I got my hair, face, neck and the rest of my body all sweaty after walking only for a few minutes in high humidity under the scorching sun.
Health-related programs on TV often gave some tips as to how viewers would be able to avoid getting a heat stroke outdoors. One of the suggestions was to use a parasol under the sun. It was supposed to keep the temperature under it a few degrees lower than when one is directly exposed to the sun. So I purchased a parasol for the first time in my life and always carried it with me whenever I went out. I immediately noticed the advantage of using it rather than wearing a hat as my hair and face stayed decently fresh and dry under it. The only disadvantage was that I had one hand always occupied holding it. I had both hands free when wearing a hat. Nevertheless, the comfort of using a parasol far outweighed the minor inconvenience. I can definitely say that buying it has been the wisest thing I have done this summer as I have made good use of it since early June.
One day, however, I realized that I had never seen any man walking with a parasol although they must suffer from heat and humidity as much as women do. Obviously, those who work outdoors cannot be holding parasols to be productive. But even office workers who are in sales and marketing, for example, do need to step out of office for appointments. They don’t seem to carry parasols, however, even when busily rushing to and fro on scorching pavement under the glaring sun.
I then came across a newspaper article on a discussion between a philosopher and a fashion designer on the subject of men and parasols. The philosopher reported to the designer of having finally bought one designed for men, in view of the unbearable heat. He appreciated it very much, for it provided the comfort and coolness over his shoulders that a hat had never given him. He nevertheless admitted feeling uncomfortable sometimes and even embarrassed going out with it. He realized that it had something to do with the social notion of masculinity.
When observing his own hesitation of using a parasol, he realized he held a common macho notion of how men should appear. He thought society expected them to be tough, and being able to endure physical work under hot and sweaty conditions was one of the qualities required of being considered tough and masculine. He thought men with such endurance were also portrayed as “fighters”, another characteristic of manliness, while those who went out with a parasol would be judged weak. He noted within himself a desire to not appear as someone frail, which made him hesitate a bit to walk with a parasol.
Most men and women in any society not only try to seek approval for their appearance from people around them but also attempt to present themselves as masculine or as feminine as they can be in accordance to the norm of their societies. However, I sometimes find men’s behavior based on what they consider “cool” or acceptable for themselves comical, to say the least, which, they should know, can be harmful to their health. In extreme temperatures, even a tough guy can fall victim to heat exhaustion, but a parasol might prevent him from getting sick. So why don’t they use them openly without feeling small and ashamed?
Men have, as much as women, the right to be comfortable in everyday life. But they often appear to be constraining themselves by the norms and restrictions they have been responsible for setting for themselves. They must free themselves from their own spell. For their own sake, I hope they will soon come to a realization that using a parasol is wise and practical in summer in Japan irrespective of one’s sex and be courageous enough to go out in the sun with a parasol with their heads high.