By MARI YAMAGUCHI and HYUNG-JIN KIM
TOKYO (AP) — Japan recorded its highest temperature ever on July 23 as a deadly heat wave gripped a wide swath of the country and nearby South and North Korea.
The mercury hit 106 degrees Fahrenheit in Kumagaya, a city in Saitama prefecture about 40 miles northwest of Tokyo, the Japan Meteorological Agency said. That broke the previous record from Aug. 12, 2013.
Two lingering high pressure systems trapped warm and humid air above the region, bringing record-high temperatures for nearly two weeks. More than 40 people have died in Japan and about 10 in South Korea.
“It is so hot these days that I cannot figure out whether I am in (South Korea) or in Southeast Asia,’’ said Kim Sung-hee, a student in downtown Seoul, where the temperature rose to 96 F.
Ten people have died in South Korea of heatstroke and other heat-related causes this summer, seven of them two weeks ago, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. About 1,040 people have fallen ill because of hot weather from May 20 to July 21, an increase of 61 percent over the same period last year, it said.
South Korea’s highest-ever morning low was recorded in the city of Gangneung, where the temperature was 88 F at 6:45 a.m. The morning low in Seoul was 84.6 F, a record for the country’s capital, according to South Korea’s weather agency.
The mercury hit 103.8 F in the southeastern town of Hayang, the highest temperature in the country so far this year.
In North Korea, residents fanned themselves on crowded trolleys or protected themselves from the sun with brightly colored parasols as temperatures in Pyongyang, the capital, reached 93.2 F.
Weather reports said higher temperatures were recorded on the country’s eastern coast.
Thousands of people in Japan have been rushed to hospitals with heat stroke symptoms during the heat wave. Kyodo News agency has tallied more than 40 deaths. Many of the victims have been elderly people who were not using air conditioning.
On July 23, nine people died from heat-related causes across Japan, Kyodo said. NHK national television tallied seven deaths.
The temperature reached 102 F in central Tokyo, the highest temperature this year.
Tourists in Tokyo’s historic Asakusa district struggled with the heat. Cosett Romero from Mexico said she and her family were getting headaches.
“It’s difficult to us because we don’t have this heat in Mexico,’’ she said.
Authorities warned people to stay inside and use air conditioning.
“The weather recently in Tokyo and across Japan is like being in a sauna,’’ Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said at a news conference that highlighted the 2020 Summer Olympics, which open in Tokyo in two years.
Tokyo’s postwar high temperature in August averages 88.7 F. That is about the same as the average high during the August 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, but exceeds those of the past three August Olympics: 87.0 F during Beijing 2008, 74.3 F in London 2012 and 79.3 F in Rio de Janeiro, according to meteorological agency statistics.
Koike said the city has been working to address heat concerns for both spectators and athletes.
The marathon and some other outdoor Olympic events will start early in the morning. Other steps include developing road pavement that emits less surface heat, setting up mist sprays and planting tall roadside trees.
Koike also cited traditional ways of cooling in Japan, such as hanging straw screens and spraying water on road surfaces.
“But our traditional wisdom is not enough to beat the heat like this,’’ she acknowledged, “so we will be using cutting-edge technology.’’