Summer lethargy

When the heat threatens to sap all our energy, it’s time to change what we eat. 

Anyone who has spent a summer in Japan will likely be well- acquainted with “夏ばて”, or “summer fatigue” — a general state of lethargy and tiredness, lack of concentration, sleeplessness and even mild depression.

Dealing with the relentless heat and humidity, which only lets up slightly in the evenings, is enough to get anyone down. Air conditioning helps, but as it often blasts out unpleasantly over-chilly air in many public spaces, it sometimes ends up making you feel worse.

Japanese people have come up with all kinds of ways of bringing relief to the dog days of summer, some of which go back to the times before air conditioning and electric fans. There are the obvious ones, such as drinking iced mugicha (roasted barley tea) and cold beer or snacking on kakigori (shaved ice with syrup) and slurping up cold soba or somen noodles. But if not done carefully, subsisting on cold food and drink can actually end up leaving you malnourished and even more fatigued.

It’s just as important, in these hot months, to eat not only foods that help cool the body, but also those that can help combat natsubate. In Japan, such foods include unagi (eel) and dojo (loach) — two types of fish that have high levels of omega-A oils, which many nutritionists believe can improve physical stamina.

Though eel and loach are eaten today because of their health benefits, during the Edo Period, the black color of their skins was also believed to ward off bad luck. Since Doyo no ushi no hi, was also considered to be a particularly accident-prone day, other dark natsubate foods, such as black beans and eggplant, are eaten on this day, too.


* Eat well-balanced meals, including vegetables, beans, fish and meat.

* Eat a lot of “cooling” fare. Cooling vegetables and fruit are high in water content, and most are in season during the summer. They include cucumbers, eggplant, bitter melon, winter melon, tomatoes, zucchini, summer squash, watermelon and peaches.

* Have at least one hot meal a day. Hot tea and miso soup may make you sweat, but you’ll feel a lot better for it.

* Lemon and vinegar help increase the appetite when it’s very hot. Besides salads, eat things like sunomono ( wakame seaweed, cucumber and other things in a vinegar sauce) and aji no anbanzuke (deep fried and vinegar- marinated baby horse-mackerel).

*Sleep well. The lack of sleep causes physical strength lack.



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