One of the great things about Japan is that it has 4 distinct seasons and they celebrated in their own special way. To be in Japan for a year is great because you can experience the full range of festivals, foods and activities. Moreover, Japan runs from north to south so even if you are only there for a short time, you can pick your activity and then find the right season. You can potentially ski and surf on the same day!
Summertime in most regions in Japan is hot. And not just hot but hot and humid. For many people it is the time to either escape the country or at least stay near the air conditioning. But this article shows ways of enjoying this season without suffering the ‘Natsubate’ or Summer beating.
As with most islands and countries not land locked, one of the best ways of enjoying the seaside. There you can escape the concrete, the stifling humidity and the noise. If you are in Tokyo, it is a bit of a hike to get to a good sandy beach and clear water, so as with many activities in Japan, start early to get the most out of a day.
If you have a car, great, but it might take you a while to get out of and come back into the city. Japan has some of the best public transport in the world, so unless you are taking the surfboard, the full BBQ kit and parasol, take advantage of the trains by which you literally can set your watch. Zushi is down the coast from Tokyo and Enoshima is good and highly accessible. If you are heading out from the Kansai region (Osaka, Kyoto), go south to Wakayama, west of Kobe to Sumo or even cross the water to Takamatsu on Shikoku island.
The FireworksCredit: H D Sayer
Everywhere on the planet has fireworks, right. But for regularly in Summer and amount spent Japan is hard to beat. There is in fact so much spent on the displays that big business is often invited to sponsor events. You may have an announcement on the public system saying something like ‘The next display is sponsored by Mitsubishi’, and every 15 minutes thereafter a big industrial name is mentioned.
As with many public events, Firework displays are extremely popular and if attending one of the bigger displays in a large city, prepare to get there early. It may be a case of designated ‘Early Bird’ taking the mat to secure a space and sweltering it out til the sun goes down. Make sure you reward that person with a lot of their favourite drink as he or she will have earned it. Along with the fireworks there are always a huge selection of stalls selling some great food, drink and souvenirs. There will also be great little places where kids can play fun games like ‘scoop the goldfish’. And many people will be wearing the traditional yukata (best described as a simpler form of the kimono
), so it is in so many ways a spectacle.
HokkaidoCredit: H D Sayer
As previously stated, Japan runs north to south so the best way to escape the heat is to head north. Hokkaido, the most northern island, is famous for the fantastic ski resorts and powder snow in winter, but during Summer it is a great for hiking, golf and whale/dolphin watching. And as with all other areas in Japan, it has its own unique festivals and foods (and its own dialect if you fancy a real challenge!). Check out the Shiretoko Shari Neputa festival for its colourful floats and activities for all the family. Foodwise try the local cuisine or ‘Gotouchi’ as it is known. Hokkaido even has its own variety of Shochu drink (distilled with a typical alcoholic strength somewhere between wine and whiskey. You can add water to dilute) called Tantakatan. This is the brand of shochu whose base ingredient is the shiso leaf, a herb used in cooking with a distinct taste and aroma. When drinking it, such is the influence of shiso, you almost feel you are tasting directly from the leaf. It is fantastic.
Japan loves its festivals or ‘Matsuri’ in local parlance. Like many of its traditions, most Matsuri date back hundreds of years and are so prevalent that pretty much wherever you are in Japan there will be a local festival near you.
Matsuri big and small happen everywhere in Summer, so it may be better to check out local Matsuri for a friendlier and more intimate experience. Details will be in your prefecture or ward’s English web pages or just ask around with neighbours, building concierge or someone in your local community. The main thing to remember is take water, sunscreen and care. It will be extremely hot, humid and with so many people around, it is easy to get sunstroke if you are not used to such a climate. If you are lucky enough to be able to participate, better get into training beforehand.