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Beating the Heat, Kyoto-Style

Known for its beautiful temples and gardens, Kyoto also holds a less attractive distinction: one of Japan’s hottest, most humid cities. There is, of course, air conditioning in Kyoto, but there are also many traditional ways to stay cool (or at least feel refreshed). Since New Yorkers also face heat and humidity, I talked with Ms. Yumi Iida, a Kyoto native and owner of Japanese gift shop Kiteya, about Kyoto methods for surviving summer.

Ms. Iida explained that people in Kyoto often begin the day by sprinkling water over the stones and greenery outside their homes and businesses to cool them before the heat rises. Houses also sometimes have traditional woven structures leaning against them to shield plants and interior spaces from extreme sun while still letting in some light.

Emphasizing the seasons is important in Japan, so summer items typically feature seasonally appropriate motifs (such as goldfish, frogs, and water) and colors (blues and greens). Although this doesn’t produce a practical cooling effect, it does suggest the feeling of coolness. Ms. Iida’s number-one summer accessory is her folding fan. Women in Japan also use parasols and handkerchiefs, and scarves filled with ice packs have become popular.

You might not think of tea as a summer drink, but it can be quite refreshing. Mr. Riichiro Kato of Kyoto tea company Ippodo described how an Ippodo employee came up with the idea for chilled, sweetened matcha back in 1935 and it soon became popular throughout Japan. (You can try Ippodo’s version, Uji Shimizu, at Ippodo NY.)

To make your own cold matcha, you can either prepare thick matcha with hot water and then add ice cubes or just mix the matcha powder with cold water from the start. The former style has a fine froth and smooth texture, while the latter highlights a beautiful, bitter taste. You can also steep green tea leaves in cold water for about 30 minutes for a refreshing summer drink that is sweeter than regular green tea (the lower the temperature of the water, the sweeter the taste). We hope these Kyoto tips will make your summer cooler—they will certainly make it more elegant!

—– Reported by Kate Williamson

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Kiteya SoHo 464 Broome St., New York, NY 10013
TEL: 212-219-7505 / www.kiteya.com

Ippodo NY 125 E. 39th St., New York, NY 100016
TEL: 212-370-0609 / www.ippodo-tea.co.jp/shop/ny.html

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A folding fan is a must-have for surviving Kyoto’s hot and muggy summers. A fan with a summery motif will not only create a cool air flow but will refresh you just by looking at it.

This sheer handkerchief, printed with Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa, will give your summer a touch of elegance.

You can brew green tea with ice-cold water. Just prepare it a half hour before serving.  Use clear glasses instead of ceramic cups for a more cooling look.

Ippodo NY is offering Uji Shimizu, sweetened cold matcha drink that is a staple in Kyoto. You can also buy Uji Shimizu mix to make it easily at home.