The heat in Tokyo is so thick you feel like you are wading through it. The temperature says 35 but with radiant heat from the surrounding concrete and in the absence of even a breath of breeze the mercury is above 40 degrees in the some places.

Our group head out looking for a place to eat but only last half a block before we head to air-conditioned refuge.

Some 70 people have died in this heatwave, and every local mentions the heat at the beginning of every conversation. The cause of this unnatural spike is a mix of a weak jet stream, something called Multidecadal Oscillation, all on an elevated baseline caused by climate change. What that means for me is that I melt like a wax candle after about ten minutes in the open air.

The summit of summer was by no means my first choice of when to come to Japan - one thinks of the spring blossoms or the rich palette of colours during the changing of the leaves in autumn.


But Nagaizumi's big festival is early August and we were urged to come at that time by their council. As there are Japanese delegations coming to Whanganui for heritage weekend and the Masters Games it seemed only right to come when they wanted, no matter what the thermometer read.

Tokyo is such a vast conglomeration of humanity that in 40 degree heat you would expect the threads that bind the city to become frayed. But somehow the 40 million people get by.

The "salary men" and "office ladies" have eschewed their jackets and ties, and public transport is filled with people in white shirts and blouses. One of our party quipped that it looked like a flash mob ready to break out in song.

There's nobody on the bullet train platform as the 15 of the NZ delegation wait for the train to take us south. All the smart locals are waiting in the air-conditioned waiting rooms, and come down with a minute, rather than a quarter of an hour, to spare. The train will be on time. The Japanese economy seems to rely on order, consistency, and remarkable engineering.

I don't mind spending 15 minutes watching the bullet trains come in. To me the Shinkansen is one of the wonders of the modern world. Not only are they beautiful pieces of machinery, but they go fast - 320 kph. That's Wellington to Auckland in a shade over 2 hours.

Packing 15 Kiwis and their luggage on to the bullet train during the one minute stop is a lesson in logistics. We manage it pretty well - a handful of us toss the luggage on while the rest simply get into the carriage.

The guy on the platform waves a flag indicating we are getting overtime and telling the driver to taihoa. He talks in Japanese softly as we keep throwing suitcases onboard. He might be stressed - the rate of flag waving increases - but he is almost encouraging, and definitely polite about these dumb foreigners making a meal of getting on board a train within 60 seconds.

And that maybe is another secret of Japanese culture, even in forty degree heat. Everybody is polite. The only yelling I heard in the first two days was from two drunk westerners. The lights indicating you can cross the road play a soothing tune akin to birdsong, not an insistent vexatious buzzing. No one honks their horn angrily.


The broadcast through the city about some traffic jam is friendly - almost comforting advice from a kindly uncle. While Japan might be the only place that has invented a word for "death from overwork" - karoshi - it has compartmentalised its stress. Away from work - in order for this vast city to function - the stress is punctured by civility.

Hamish McDouall is with the Whanganui delegation in Nagaizumi-cho to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the sister city relationship.