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Summer traditions in Japan 日本の夏文化について

Japan is a country with a unique culture and history, with its own traditions and numerous cultural festivals. Some of you may have been to Japan and know about the country, but how much are you familiar with its cultures and traditions? Because Japan is a country surrounded by sea, the summer can be hot and very humid. It might not be the most comfortable season to travel to Japan, but Japanese people know how to enjoy it. Summer traditions in Japan are called Natsu no Fuubutsu Shi (夏の風物詩/なつのふうぶつし). Here are some of the summer traditions in Japan that can be found during the summer in Japan.

Omatsuri - Japanese summer festivals

Festivals are called Omatsuri (お祭り/おまつり) in Japanese and most of the summer festivals take place from June to August. Unlike Western festivals, Japanese festivals are related to local shrines and temples, as well as folk religions. So the festivals are not only to celebrate the summer but also to celebrate and show the appreciation to the gods who are enshrined. During the festival day, people carry Omikoshi (御神輿/おみこし) which is a portable shrine. It is regarded as an incarnation of the god and festive events are held to entertain it. There are many small stands and stalls called Yatai that sell street foods and drinks and let you play games. The size of Omatsuri varies, from the local small size ones to the huge ones that welcome 2 to 3 million visitors each year. Below are some famous Japanese summer festivals

  • 祇園祭 ぎおんまつり Gion Matsuri

Where: Kyoto

When: Entire month of July

  • 天神祭 てんじんさい Tenjin Matsuri

Where: Osaka

When: 24th and 25th of July

  • 青森ねぶた祭り あおもりねぶたまつり Aomori Nebuta Matsuri

Where: Aomori

When: From August 1 to 6

  • 仙台七夕祭り せんだいたなばたまつり Sendai Tanabata Matsuri

Where: Sendai, Miyagi prefecture

When: The 7th day of the 7th month on the Chinese lunar calendar so around 6th to 8th of August

Tanabata (七夕/たなばた)

Tanabata is a Japanese celebration which is also known as the star festival. According to Japanese folklore, this is the day when two stars, Altair and Vega, which are usually separated from each other by the milky way, can meet. Tanabata takes place on the 7th day of the 7th month so now it is celebrated on July 7th in most of the regions. However, because the 7th month of the year is roughly around August based on the formerly used Chinese lunar calendar, it is celebrated on August in some regions. It is a tradition to write your wish on Tanzaku (colourful strips of paper) and hang them on Tanabata trees which are made from bamboo branches. Tanabata festivals are held across Japan in July and August. Two of the Omatsuris listed above (Aomori Nebuta Matsuri and Sendai Tanabata Matsuri) are also Tanabata festivals.

Hanabi Taikai (花火大会/はなびたいかい)

In July and August, there are also many Hanabi Taikai (Firework shows) held across Japan. These fireworks are not to celebrate a specific holiday but to enjoy summer, so it can be seen very often throughout the summer. People enjoy Hanabi Taikai wearing Yukata which is a summer Kimono, Japanese traditional attire. There are many rentals of Yukatas so if you are interested, you can try wearing it for yourself. It will be fun to wear it and enjoy Omatsuri and Hanabi Taikai. Similar to Omatsuri, there will be Yatai in Hanabi Taikai as well. One of the best firework shows takes place in Tokyo, on the banks of the Sumida river on the last Saturday of July. Sumidagawa is the oldest fireworks festival in the world started in 1732. There are about a million visitors each year.

Japanese summer foods

Lastly, here are some of the summer foods people enjoy in Japan.

Kaki Gori (かき氷/かきごおり)

Kaki Gori is a shaved ice with syrup poured on top. It’s similar to a snow cone but has much smooth, fluffier ice like a freshly fallen snow. Eating Kaki Gori with sweet syrup is a popular way for people to stay cool in the summer. It used to be something that was made at home or could be only bought from Yatai. However, recently cafes and restaurants started to serve Kaki Gori and there are also cafes that specialised in Kaki Gori as well.

Somen (素麺/そうめん)

This is a very thin noodle made only of flour, water and salt. Noodle is usually served in water with ice and people dip it into a light flavoured dipping soup called Mentsuyu. Condiments such as spring onions, ginger and myoga (a type of Japanese ginger) is often served with somen. It is mostly eaten at home and can’t be seen at restaurants often. People also enjoy Nagashi somen where noodles are placed in a flume of bamboo and as the noodle passes by, people pluck them out with their chopsticks and dip them into Mentsuyu.

These were some of the Japanese summer traditions people enjoy. Since there are so many of them, I couldn’t write things about Obon, which is a tradition to honour the spirits of the ancestors and it’s one of the biggest events during summer. So the next week’s article is about Obon. I hope this article gave you some ideas about summer traditions and you enjoy summer in Japan just as local people do.

Momoka Yamaguchi

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