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Thousands have been sent to the hospital due to Japan's blistering heat wave

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Japan is sweltering right now. It's the country's worst heat wave in decades, and there's an energy crunch. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Kyoto about what the government and residents are doing to try to keep cool.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: As Japan slowly reopens its borders, tourists are trickling back into the former capital of Japan for more than a thousand years. But with temperatures in the mid-90s, there were few tourists to be seen downtown on Thursday. Minoru Ikuta, who works at a machinery company, ducked into a shop to get himself a manually operated cooling device.

MINORU IKUTA: (Through interpreter) I was on my way to dinner, but it was too hot. So I stopped in here to buy a fan.

KUHN: A flick of his new purchase unleashes a cool perfumed breeze.

IKUTA: (Through interpreter) I like the fragrance, and you can control the wind speed yourself.

KUHN: The mercury topped 104 degrees in some parts of the country this week. Such temperatures are not unheard of in Japan, but usually not until the end of the rainy season in mid-July. The government says more than 4,500 people were sent to hospitals for heatstroke and heat exhaustion last week. Japanese businesses have tried to save energy by turning lights down and thermostats up. At a press briefing, energy official Kaname Ogawa offered residents some advice.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KANAME OGAWA: (Speaking Japanese).

KUHN: "Please conserve electricity," he said, "while using air conditioning appropriately to avoid heatstroke, and turn off any unnecessary lights." Since Japan shut down its nuclear power plants in the wake of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, the country has relied heavily on imported energy. But with Japan's currency, the yen, at a more than two-decade low to the dollar, imported energy prices have skyrocketed. Minoru Ikuta sounds a note of resignation.

IKUTA: (Through interpreter) Many citizens are against nuclear power plants. But this is an island nation, and it's hard to get oil and gas. So we may just have to operate nuclear plants in the future.

KUHN: Near the fan shop, college student Ayana Uno emerges from an ice cream parlor and complains that her face mask is too hot.

AYANA UNO: (Speaking Japanese).

KUHN: "I've heard that you don't have to wear them outside," she notes, "but lots of people just keep on wearing them, so it's hard to take it off, and I'm keeping mine on." Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Kyoto. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.