“You know he doesn’t let his family use air conditioning, right?” My coworker asked.
“…But why?” I said, “I mean, I know air conditioning screws up your body’s ability to regulate its own temperature and stuff…but it’s…really hot out.”
“Well…I mean, maybe that too,” my coworker responded, “but I think it has more to do with how it’s supposed to diminish your samurai spirit or something.”
I gave him a look.
“I swear, it’s a thing. Look it up.”
We were trading some gossip, as I attempted to fan the humidity and sweat off myself with a plastic folder. Tokyo summers are densely humid and hot – this past week having been particularly brutal – but it was the first I’d heard of air conditioning being a detriment to my samurai spirit. I had, until this point, been under the impression that artificially cooled environments were aiding my ability to remain zen when my body seemed unable to stop sweating. And sweating uncontrollably just didn’t seem very samurai.
But this was the coworker who had warned me about the Paris Syndrome, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt. A five second Google search later confirmed his statement. The references were vague, but enough to concede that yeah, it’s apparently a [real] thing. “Okay, fine,” I said to the back of my coworker’s head, over the partition between our desks, as I pulled on my cardigan. The air conditioning was kicking in in the office.
My allegedly diminished samurai spirit came to mind again on Sunday as I pushed the pedals towards home. It was my second day in a row riding outside in heat so intense it felt like the sky had pulled a wool blanket over Tokyo, while blasting the city with a heat lamp. On Saturday, I knew temperatures would peak at 37C, but thought, well, how bad could it really be? And the worse it was, the better it would be for my samurai spirit, anyway, right?
Apparently it can get pretty bad. And apparently, I’m lacking in the samurai spirit department.
Five bottles of water and Skratch kept me alive on an easy three hour spin on Saturday, but the next day, even with stronger legs and slightly less punishing temperatures, I was toeing the edge of heat crazy. If you keep pedaling, it’s not so bad. But your denial inevitably stumbles across the too obvious signs of what exactly you’re doing to yourself: the hot water in your bottles, the waves of heat coming off the asphalt that reaches under your bars to sear your eyes, the sight of your shorts sprouting salt crystals, the reality of sweat coming out of your shins. It’s like doing one of those masochistic juice detox fasts, where you convince yourself you have to feel like shit for a little while, but don’t worry, in ten days, you’ll feel so much better. Clinging to life on a hunger high, it’s not hard to chant to yourself that you feel better ["energized," even] doing this, but stop and think about the situation for a minute and you realize all you want is a huge burger and a king size bag of chips. Or, in my case, a cold shower, green tea shaved ice, and air conditioning.
Sprawled out on my bed after scrubbing the sweat off of me, my skin still stained with the heat, I reached for the air conditioner remote. Modernity may be maiming the samurai in me, but actual death by dehydration seemed equally detrimental to that cause. Or so I told myself. Shaking my head at my own ineptitude, I drew up my knees and noticed crisper tan lines that were finally edging towards “good.” I stretched my heels towards the ceiling before dropping heavy legs onto the bed.
“Whatever,” I thought, as cool air swirled around me, “samurais never had to ride bikes, anyway.”