Summer in Japan
Haru Natsu Aki Fuyu – Spring Summer Autumn Winter – the four seasons of Japan are each distinct by its own form of celebration. Summer is no exception. It’s Arrival is celebrated, peak is tolerated, then departure is again celebrated. Summer is the shortest of the four seasons. So there’s a palpable rush in the way the celebrations all squeeze into calendar. Pushing and jostling, kind of. Let’s start with July.
July and August are the two summer months. Temperatures scale up to between middle to late twenties. That’s of course talking about Tokyo. Out in Hokkaido spring still lords over the hills and valleys. And in the western part of the isles, popularly known as Alpine region of Japan, snow still covers the road to few meters height. Whereas down in Okinawa the year round warm weather gets warmer. Starts giving competition to the famous onsens – the natural hot water baths. To avoid confusion, the whole country Hokkaido to Honshu Shikoku to Kyushu just decides well it’s summer. No matter whatever the temperature in any particular area. And starts the celebrations.
The summer holidays
Schools close. Parks wake up to the laughter of children. Popup Tents fill up open fields. families with sports and barbecue gear descend onto riversides. Seaside shanties get busy supplying food and cold brew to surfers and swimmers. Tour buses head to regions famous for flower beds and nature parks. Water parks declare season open with lavish ads in trains and local TV stations. For families with young kids, the local shinsui pools the wading pools with shallow artificial rivers start flowing. Daytime enjoyment rolls into evenings. Fireworks competitions light up the skies in neighborhoods.
As summer temperatures rise occasional squalls bring in heavy burst of rain. Rice farmers get busy in the fields. And school kids get busy in bushes catching cicadas. Cicadas are seasonal cricket kind of bugs but with a larger size and industry strength loud call. Their arrival after the first flush of rain in summer is marked by the characteristic siren like song that waxes and wanes every few minutes. Morning 8 to evening 6. No wonder Japan society learnt a lot from nature. Kids these days still carry on this love catching cicadas in nets and taking them home as pets.
The summer festivals and outdoor fun activities
Summer festivals perhaps largely originated in the original rice farming agrarian population. Thus the farmers song and dance – the Awa Odori the Bon Odori bring in different regional flavors of farming community. Seasonal produce like watermelons are a prized souvenir exchanged within friends and family. The freshest greenest roundest melons are auctioned with winning bids going up to million yen!
While the adults sing dance drink what do the kids do? Schools and clubs organize outings. Hiking Camps. Visiting nature farms. Learning how to find that juicy root underneath. Catching fish. Watching stars. Running after fireflies in the evenings. Some of these activities gained in popularity changing into festivals over time. Goldfish festival of Edogawa; firefly watching in Hachioji.
As month rolls on from July to August, tropical weather takes over large swath of mainland Japan. Entire city population crams into water parks such as Summerland, Inage Kaihin Koen, Showa Kinen park, Toshimaen, Yomiuriland and such. Magazines routinely publish photos of people in all sorts of colorful inflatables – understandably floating in the pools since no water can be seen through the crowd! Japan govt declared holidays like marine day encourage more crowd. And more. Not everything need to be expensive though. Canoe lessons are arranged on marine day – free for newbies. Courtesy Marine Research Organization, Odaiba. Similarly newbies are welcome to try surfing in Tokyo seasides like the facility at Odaiba or an hours ride away at Kamakura Shonan / Zutsshi beach area.
Obon and Mountain day holidays
2-3rd week of August however the crowd thins in the city. Most people go visit relations, pray in memory of the departed at ancestral village. This is the Obon week. Malls start discount sales. End of Summer season for them; time to stock up on next season’s items.
For the adventure lovers summer brings the opportunity to take part in nature camping, hiking or surfing trips. But for all enthusiasts this is also the season to make a journey to the top of Mount Fuji. Mount Fuji national park administration opens the path to trek to the top for a couple of months. Tourists make a beeline hoping to view sunrise from atop the iconic landmark of the land of rising sun. Buses leave from Shinjuku to Kawaguchiko fifth station where from the trek starts. Some spend time at the foot of the mountain partaking the beauty of the five lakes and forest area surrounding Mt.fuji.
Back in city life returns as August nears its end. llast week there are a host of festivals such as Yosakoi street dance festival at Omotesando, Norio dance festival, Asakusa Samba dance festival and such others. Beer halls host Octoberfest – name beer buffets are known here by. Kids and their parents all take in their last few scoops of Kakigori – the omni-present everyone’s favorite crushed flavored ice – the symbol of summer.
End August Early September the weather takes a sudden turn. Typhoon season starts. Heavy rains and wind lash onto Japan from south. Summer ends. The fireflies the cicadas vanish. The pools close. Folding hand fans, the iconic symbol of Japan along with Mt.Fuji , folds back into the closet. Till next year.