After being closed to travelers for two years, Japan is slowly but surely reopening to tourism, and this unique country is waiting for you with an array of cities, landscapes, flavors, and unique experiences.
Even though April is widely viewed as the best month to visit Japan, to revel in the beauty of the cherry blossom, you can rest assured the country has lots of attractions to offer in the summer months as well – yes, even July and August.
True, it’s going to be hot. Still, once you overcome that little hurdle, gear up properly with a Japanese fan and a wide-brimmed hat, and come to terms with the knowledge that you’re going to sweat a bit, you can enjoy some of the unique attractions Japan has to offer only in the hotter season.
How hot is it, really?
It depends on where. Since Japan is a long and narrow island country, the weather is hardly uniform. For example, on the northernmost island, Hokkaido, visited by freezing Siberian winds, summer is relatively mild, with the average daytime temperature mostly around 30 degrees Celsius (85 Fahrenheit). In Tokyo, however, temperatures may rise to 35 degrees (95 Fahrenheit). In Kyoto, nestled in a valley, temperatures will not be much different than in Tokyo, yet humidity might make all the difference.
If you travel all the way to Okinawa, Japan’s southern and subtropical archipelago, you can expect temperatures between 30-35 degrees (85-95 Fahrenheit), but the heat will not bother you too much because chances are you’ll spend most of your time at the beach.
As mentioned above, Japan is an island nation, and the sea is never too far away. The interior also boasts large lakes, such as Lake Biwa, north-east of Kyoto, with beautiful beaches for swimming. So if you wish to incorporate some sun and sea into your Japanese adventure, it’s definitely an option.
Truth be told, every season in Japan has its celebrations and special occasions, but summer festivities are the most colorful and fun. Here is a list of main events:
On July 7, Japan celebrates its very own Valentine’s Day, is celebrated in Japan, and the biggest shindig happens in Sendai, in the Tohoku region. Spectacular decorations made by local shopkeepers and school children adorn the city center, and they genuinely send the heart aflutter.
Tanabata is celebrated everywhere: in almost every hotel lobby, department store, or shopping center, you’ll be greeted with a bamboo tree hung with notes and wishes, so be sure to add your own. Last year, I asked that Artem Dolgopyat win a gold medal, so wishes do come true sometimes.
Over a thousand years ago, an epidemic wreaked havoc in Kyoto. The solution suggested was to go out to Yasaka Temple and ask the gods for help, and what do you know? It worked! Ever since then, the Gion Festival has been celebrated (almost uninterrupted) in Kyoto every year in July.
Huge decorated floats are towed downtown by sturdy men in thanksgiving to the gods, and at night one can walk among the impressive floats and enjoy the local delicacies. If you visit the Kansai region in July, this is one celebration you don’t want to miss!
Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival
On the last Saturday in July, the sky over Sumidagawa becomes a vast canvas for the annual fireworks competition. And let me tell you something, if you’ve never seen Japanese fireworks, you’ve never seen fireworks in your life.
The fireworks competition is held between rival pyrotechnic groups as a revival of an Edo period festival, and the Sumidagawa Festival attracts close to a million celebrants annually.
Every year in August (dates vary), the Feast of the Dead is celebrated in Japan in honor of ancestral spirits who come to visit their families, as tradition has it. The celebrations culminate when “the dead are shown the way back to their world.” This is done by floating paper lanterns on rivers and out to sea, and in Kyoto, fire inscriptions are set ablaze on mountainsides around the city. It is an extraordinary festival, and you can take part wherever you are in Japan.
Summer Food and drink
In Japan, the seasons play an essential part in the country’s culinary offerings. In fact, there are foods you can only consume at a particular time of year, the most delicious of which are – you guessed it – available in the summer:
Kakigōri – Grated ice topped with syrup, with lots of flavors on offer. Some places really stand out with toppings like sweet beans or mochi.
Sōmen – Wheat noodles served in cold broth. One of the most refreshing foods you can eat on a scorching hot day!
Kuzumochi – These are mochi cookies that look like ice cubes (maybe to make them seem cooler). They are fun to eat when you feel like something sweet but not too heavy. They are usually dipped in Kuromitsu syrup and sweet kinako powder.
Ramune – A sweet carbonated drink that comes in many flavors and was invented in Japan more than a hundred years ago. Ramune became one of the symbols of summer in Japan, and is widely consumed during summer festivals and is highly refreshing.
Other summer specials
Here are a few more things that are so typical of a Japanese summer:
Wind chimes – These percussion instruments hang everywhere, from temples, shops, and house windows. With the simple yet enchanting music they produce, wind chimes signify the arrival of a cool breeze that all Japanese yearn for in the summer.
Teru teru bōzu – A handmade doll that children hang on window sills. It is basically a mascot to ensure that the next day will be sunny, as, in Japan, summer rains are in abundance.
Lotuses – Summer is also the time when lotuses are in full bloom, and this is a great reason to look for all the places where you can visit a lotus pond.
Cicadas – The ultimate soundtrack of a Japanese summer is the buzzing of cicadas on trees, both in cities and in the countryside. Pay attention to their particular sound (in fact, there’s no way you won’t notice it).
To sum up, summer in Japan can be challenging for AC enthusiasts, but if you’re an adventurer who wants to immerse in Japanese culture at its best, you must visit Japan in July and August at least once. And who knows, there may soon be direct flights from Israel, making the Land of the Rising Sun much more accessible.
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