More than 50% of those hospitalized have been 65 or older and fears of further problems remain with the rest of the summer expected to be blistering hot.
Many are refraining from using air conditioners in response to a government request to conserve energy due to the threat of power shortages with the Fukushima Daiichi plant shut down after being damaged in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, and other reactors closed for inspection or stress tests following the Fukushima accident.
The Agency responded to the increased danger of heatstroke on July 13 by announcing it will release High Temperature Alerts, with warnings to apply when the day’s high temperature forecast is expected to top 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit). Alerts will apply to all parts of Japan except Okinawa, where power supply is not a problem and air conditioners can be used freely, and Hokkaido, where the summer is milder.
Agency officials say it’s important to save energy, but ask for sensible use of air conditioning and urge people in areas subjected to high temperature warnings to drink plenty of water and use supplemental salt to avoid heatstroke.
The agency will issue alerts three times daily over the summer, twice in the morning, another early in the afternoon and in the late afternoon, the latter of which is also intended to serve as a forecast for the early part of the following day.
While the elderly have proved most susceptible to heatstroke, they have also actively engaged in energy saving measures, further raising the likelihood of danger.
Japan’s summer is on course to become its hottest-ever, with June already having the highest average temperatures since the agency began collating statistics in 1961. Part of the increase in temperature arises from the heat island effect, the rising of temperatures reflecting from concrete and exhausted hot air from air conditioning in cities.
Japan has come up with a number of policies aimed at combating the heat, most famously the Cool Biz concept, which is also aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Cool Biz, which has been operating annually since 2005, encourages people to dress casually over summer in exchange for keeping air conditioner settings at a comparatively high 28 degrees (82 degrees Fahrenheit).
Politicians, normally sticklers for dress, have joined the campaign, agreeing to ditch ties in the Diet for the summer months.
With the agency noting that Japan’s a top temperature hit 37.8 degrees (100 degrees Fahrenheit) on July 14 – New Delhi was only 35 degrees (95 degrees Fahrenheit), but Dubai hit a sweltering 44 degrees (111 degrees Fahrenheit) — the need for Cool Biz and air conditioning, not to mention the threat of heatstroke, is greater than ever.