Shokibarai: A 10-point plan to keeping cool this summer
When it’s summer Japan, all the jimejime (humidity) and hītoairando genshō (“heat island phenomenon”) may have you suffering natsubate (“summer fatigue”). This is where shokibarai comes in.
“Shokibarai” roughly translates to “cheering the mind and body to dispel the heat,” and has its foundations in the traditional Chinese medicine principle of Yin-and-Yang foods, where Yin is to “take in that which cools the body.” So beyond fanning yourself with a sensu or uchiwa and sprinkling the street with water, shokibarai has a list of remedies to help you exorcise summer’s heat demon.
1. Do as the samurai did: eat umeboshi
Innocuous-looking but packing a punch, the powerfully sour umeboshi (pickled plums) have remarkable medicinal qualities. They are said to be a samurai-endorsed superfood, eaten between battles to promote healing, and during battles to boost stamina. High acidic levels, calcium, iron, and phosphorus mean umeboshi have an alkalizing effect on the body, neutralizing fatigue, boosting metabolism, and detoxifying organs. They’re also an ideal hangover remedy.
2. Enjoy frozen treats
The seasonal fanaticism of the Japanese culinary world extends even to the ice cream selection of convenience stores and dessert chains. More fruit-based varieties and flavors feature in the seasonal lineup, like sudachi lemon and Fuji apple. Popular sweet bun “melonpan” gets a summer makeover as Melon Aisu (filled with ice cream). The hallmark of summer street food, however, is kakigori (shaved ice), a ubiquitous treat popular since the Heian Period. Sake brewery Hakutsuru even releases an iced junmai ginjo.
3. Eat cold versions of winter dishes
This is similar in theory to the nourishment of cold pizza the morning after, but different in execution. Several archetypal Japanese hot-pot and broth-based dishes are reappropriated for the summer months. Udon, soba, yudofu (tofu in dashi kombu), and shabu shabu become hiyashi udon, hiyashi soba, hiyayakko tofu, and rei shabu—the prefixes denoting “cold” or “cool.”
4. Sip on an Edo-era cocktail of mirin and shochu
Before mirin was a seasoning, it was a tipple, and one particularly fancied by the upper class during the Tokugawa Period (1603-1868). Called “yanagikage” at the time, meaning “sake to be drunk beneath the shadow of a willow,” it was consumed chilled to dispel summer heat.
5. Blindfold someone, make them cut open a watermelon with a wooden sword, eat the watermelon
This is known as suikawari, a Japanese custom similar to Mexican piñata, and a popular summer pastime. Watermelon are in season in summer in Japan, and with a water content of 92 percent and a sugar content of six percent, it’s bound to perk you up. And the entertainment provides a momentary distraction from the rivers of sweat pouring out of places from which you never knew you could sweat.
6. Eat things pickled in vinegar
Vinegar can help stimulate circulation and cool the body down, providing a sense of refreshment by stimulating your salivary glands, helping to replenish minerals and electrolytes lost through sweating. To this effect, eat vinegared dishes such as sunomono (cucumber salad), tsukemono (Japanese pickles), and vinegared noodle dipping sauces like tsuyu.
7. Drink beer, lots of it
A beer “drinking party” is the modern linchpin of shokibarai. It’s said that beer is in fact not cooling, because the alcohol content can dehydrate you and cause vasodilation, making your skin flushed. However, another argument maintains that as you have a good time getting boozy with friends, you’ll probably just forget about the heat altogether. Problem solved.
8. Drink amazake
In what sounds like an unlikely candidate for a summer energy drink—thick, creamy, sweet, and sometimes mildly alcoholic—amazake (sweet sake) is a Japanese beverage made from rice and koji (fermentation culture) that is packed with vitamins, minerals, and glucoses. Amazake has been drunk since the year 4 AD to combat the weariness of natsubate, as well as aid digestion, improve skin health, promote weight loss, boost the immune system, and even cure hangovers.
9. Drink mugicha
Typically drunk cold in Japan, mugicha (roasted barley tea) is naturally caffeine-free, sugarless, and has a clean, nutty, coffee-like flavor. It contains antioxidants and replenishing minerals like calcium, iron, and vitamin B. It provides energy and improves digestion and circulation.
10. Do all of the above while camping
Less concrete and reflected heat, more trees and shade, places to swim, campfire cooking. Enough said.