Cities compete for 'hottest in Japan' status

People try to cool off at a crowded swimming pool at the Nagashima Spaland amusement park in Kuwana city in Mie prefecture, central Japan, on August 13, 2013. A severe heat wave continued to attack Japan, with temperatures in Shimanto city in Japan's southern island of Shikoku reaching 40 degree Celsius for the fourth day in a row.

JAPAN - The competition to be recognised as "the hottest place in Japan" is heating up among several cities across the nation known for their blistering summer temperatures. On Monday, the mercury in Shimanto, Kochi Prefecture, hit a new record of 41 C, rewriting the previous record of 40.9 C held for six years by Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture, and Tajimi, Gifu Prefecture.

Regardless of what the record book says, the two cities and Tatebayashi, Gunma Prefecture, which closely contested the two previous record holders, have been marketing themselves as the "hottest place" by making use of their scorching weather.

Officials and residents of the three cities have voiced their expectations of regaining the top position, and are busying themselves in the meantime by implementing measures to help prevent the dangers associated with such hot weather.

Surprise No. 1 spot

A local specialty goods store along a national route in Shimanto has wasted no time in putting up a signboard reading, "The hottest in Japan." The store also cut the price of shaved ice, usually ¥100 a bowl, to ¥41 to match the record-breaking temperature.

Shizuka Takeuchi, 35, a member of the local chamber of commerce, was upbeat, saying, "We definitely have the hottest temperature in the nation and want to use it to advertise our city."

The highest temperature was recorded at the city's Nishi-Tosa district in a mountainous area near the border with Ehime Prefecture. Before breaking the record, the city was known only as a place where the pure clean waters of Shimantogawa river ran through.

The city's title as the nation's hottest place was unexpected. Officials and residents said they plan to produce T-shirts with the phrase "Atsuizo" (It's hot) printed on them and form a group of children to publicly advertise the city.

However, there has also been a troubling side effect. Catches of ayu sweetfish, a Shimantogawa local specialty, have declined. As water temperatures in the river have been higher than the average year, fewer fish have migrated to fishing spots in shallower areas.

"If this situation continues, sweetfish fishing will suffer disastrously," said an official of the local fisheries cooperative.

4 cities still hot

Residents of Kumagaya and Tajimi are not downbeat despite losing the top position.

Kumagaya has made use of its sweltering temperatures by creating a yurukyara mascot named "Atsube," a sun-shaped character whose expression shows it struggling against extreme heat.

Tajimi did the same with its character "Unagappa," which has the combined appearance of an eel and kappa, a legendary mythical creature from Japanese folklore.

Since July, the two cities have competed in a "Facebook battle" by posting each city's highest daily temperatures. Every other day, the two cities introduced respective local events on the Facebook page. The battle is scheduled to last until September.

Yuhei Nakajima, 25, in Kumagaya, who organised the competition and heads a youth association called Motomachi Kodomo-kai, said, "We want to cooperate with Shimanto as cities with hot weather to revitalize our local communities."

Tajimi Mayor Masanori Furukawa admitted he was a bit disappointed. "Because we had day after day of temperatures over 40 C, I thought our record would be broken someday. But I didn't think it would happen so quickly," he said.

But the mayor is staying optimistic, saying: "We could retake it [the record]. We won't withdraw our claim that this is the hottest city in Japan."

Residents of Tatebayashi, however, couldn't conceal their feelings of disappointment. Though the city's highest temperature of 40.3 C was recorded on Aug. 16, 2007, the city usually has many days where its highest daily temperature is also the highest nationwide in an average year.