If you have ever spent a significant amount of time in the main islands of Japan during the summer season, you will understand why people spend as much time as they do complaining about, but also celebrating, summer in Japan. Now that summer is coming to an end however, I thought that reminiscing about the best parts of summer might be a much better way of preparing for next year’s summer compared to thinking of the negative aspects – for example, the sweltering weather, or the giant insects that creep out in the summer heat.
As a student, you get the privilege of summer vacation, which of course means the opportunity to travel around Japan and explore all it has to offer. The summer season also means that certain activities become available – for example, hiking or camping in certain mountainous areas, or that seasonal food items become cheaper or more commonplace. If you prepare well and brace for the fickle weather, insects, and crowds of tourists, you will find the Japanese summer to be a wonderful experience. Here are some of my favorite experiences during summer in Japan:
Festivals upon festivals upon festivals
There is no lack of festivities to participate in during the weekends of the Japanese summer.There are all kinds of festivals available – from a typical ‘summer festival’ (夏祭り) to a music festival to an art festival.
The typical summer festival (夏祭り) is usually specific to a certain city or district. For example, the Kashiwa Summer Festival, or the famous Sumida River Fireworks Festival. These festivals usually feature a veritable spread of food stalls selling all sorts of snacks and foods such as takoyaki (fried octopus encased in dough balls), and yakisoba (fried noodles). There are also game stalls you can participate in and win prizes from. A highlight of these festivals has to be the firework show, such as the famous Sumida River fireworks in central Tokyo, for which people even travel from other districts or cities to watch!
Other kinds of festivals to consider are the numerous music festivals that pop up during the summer. The larger scale summer music festivals such as the Fuji Rock Festival or the Summer Sonic Festival are major players in the international music festival circuit, and feature big-name artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Bob Dylan, and others. While I am by no means an expert on this scene, I strongly recommend giving one of these festivals a go, if not for the music, then just to have the experience of a Japanese music festival.
Having been for Fuji Rock Festival 2018, I can definitively say that it had been one of the best experiences of my time in Japan thus far. Nowhere else can you dance your heart out to music from bands like CHRVCHES and Vampire Weekend amidst the picturesque mountains of Niigata.
Eating summer-appropriate foods is a way of beating the summer heat, but these foods are delicious in their own right, and are honestly enjoyable anytime of the year. The issue is that some of these food items are also only available in the summer, or that they become cheaper in the summer. In any case, when in summer, don’t forget to try summer food! Some of my favorites include nagashi somen (which translates to ‘flowing noodles’ and are a way of serving thin noodles), and Iwagaki oysters (big and juicy Japanese oysters that become available during the summer time)
Hiking and Camping
While the heat of the summer season can certainly be a tortuous experience, the one thing I am grateful for is the accessibility it offers to numerous hiking and camping locations. An especially famous hike many people attempt only during the summer is the Mount Fuji hike. Summertime is the only time the Mount Fuji trail is open to the public, and so the trail is very popular and busy. Furthermore, in other mountainous areas that are usually inaccessible due to the cold and snow, summer means that vehicles will be able to enter these locations, and the weather will be comfortable enough for hiking and camping. Prepare well by doing research on these locations and by packing the appropriate equipment and gear.