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Sunday, June 16, 2002

Why the rain is mainly a pain

Special to The Japan Times

Your shoes make squishing sounds when you walk. After a couple of days' use, your bath towel begins to smell like it recently emerged from an Egyptian sarcophagus. Rain hats and scarves, umbrellas and waterproofing sprays proliferate. But no matter what you do, you still don't feel dry.

News photo
With the humidity spiralling up, even air-conditioners need clearing of mold and mildew. Duskin Servicemaster Co. photo

From June, nature in Japan appears to turn malevolent. Not only does it rain incessantly for a month -- Tokyo gets an average of 185.2 mm in June alone -- but then the temperature insidiously begins to creep up. Before you realize it, the temperature-humidity index (formerly referred to as the discomfort index, and I'm damned if I know why use of this term was discontinued) soars above 80 -- at which point this overweight writer's flesh begins to melt.

With the exception of Tohoku and Hokkaido, virtually all of Japan's major cities sizzle and swelter. And to make matters worse, the eye often fails to notice certain problems until they are already well advanced.

"The three factors that cause the greatest problems during the rainy season are humidity, dirt and heat," says Naohisa Nokura, West Tokyo Area Manager of Duskin Servicemaster Co. "Once something gets dirty, it's absolutely essential that you clean it, or you'll have an even bigger mess on your hands."

Corporate and residential custodial services account for some 60 percent of the Duskin Group's revenues, and according to Nokura, the rainy season stands out as one of the year's two busiest periods, along with the traditional late-December osoji (big cleanup), performed in preparation for the New Year.

Compared with traditionally built Japanese homes made of wood, straw and paper, today's modern dwellings are more enclosed, which makes them fertile breeding grounds for mold and mildew. That's why when the humidity rises, says Nokura, it's important to keep the air moving.

There's no lack of household cleaning solutions available on the market, but Nokura warns that inadvertent mixing of chlorine-based mold removers with other types of solutions, such as bathtub cleaner, can generate toxic fumes.

Should you find that prospect intimidating, you might want to summon the skills and elbow grease of a professional house-cleaning service. Just a phone call away, their typically two-man teams will clean your residence from top to bottom, including the windows, screens, bathtub, toilet, cabinets and -- of course -- the kitchen sink. Considering the work involved, their prices -- from 50,000 yen for a smallish manshon, to more than three times that figure for a large house -- is probably well worth the outlay.

Such practical problems of homecare aside, several weeks of uninterrupted wetness can lead to more personal concerns as well. To investigate its impact on human protoplasm, this reporter went to his most reliable source on matters corporeal: his physician.

"It's easy to get sick this time of year," the good doctor pronounced matter-of-factly. "Because of the occasional damp chills, you know, many people come down with summer colds. Some older patients complain it aggravates their arthritis, too. And people with weak kidneys can get dehydrated easily, which can lead to gout if they're not careful.

"And, oh yes," he added, almost as an afterthought. "You have to be careful to keep your feet dry, or you can develop mizumushi (athlete's foot)."

It seems the medical condition known as tinea pedis, typically caused by the trichophyton fungus, proliferates in East Asia's muggy climes. When the Tokyo Clinical Dermatologists Association surveyed some 21,000 individuals during "Japan Foot Week" (observed annually in the third week of May), it determined that by far the most frequent complaint related to foot health (voiced by 40.2 percent), was the itch associated with athlete's foot.

Based on this finding, the association projected that perhaps as much as 20 percent of Japan's adult population, or some 21.44 million people, may suffer from this problem to some degree.

You're in the highest-risk category, by the way, if you are male, between 20 and 50 years old, wear shoes for eight or more hours a day, and suffer from a fungal skin infection on some other part of the body.

And while we're on the subject of feet, it should be noted that a straight month of dampness can be murder on shoes.

Yasuhito Kikuchi, president of Clarks Japan Co., Ltd. advises they be accorded extra care.

"A single rainy day takes as much out of a pair of shoes as wearing them during a whole month of dry weather," he warns. "If you don't watch out, rain will cause shoes to lose their shape and color. Then the leather wrinkles and cracks, and before you know it, they're ready for the waste bin."

Kikuchi recommends that upon returning home, shoes should be carefully wiped clean of mud and water, including along the stitching. Then they should be set out to dry on several layers of old newspapers or paper towels.

"Put them in a place with good ventilation, but away from direct sunlight, which will dry out the leather," he advises.

Kikuchi also suggests applying a generous amount of neutral-color shoe cream, followed by a polish that matches the color of the leather.

"It's also a good idea to spray shoes with a good water-resistant coating, which also conditions the leather and guards against soiling," he says.

With days of dismal downpours followed by a transition to sweltering heat, you'd think many people would seek a pretext to escape, even temporarily, to more comfortable climes. But strangely, this is not the case. Government statistics indicate that June is one of the least-popular months to travel abroad. One possible explanation may perhaps be found in the old saying that "Misery loves company."

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