Summer in Japan, 2016 – Top 10 Sun Kissed Activities
The Japanese summer is officially upon us. Check out our guide for some great ideas on how to spend those long, hot summer days.
The long, hot summer has just started in Japan. The temptation is to hide behind air-conditioning units and not venture out, but this would surely be a waste. Yes, it is hot, the humidity can be unrelenting and temperatures can reach the mid 30s, but it is also the season of top traditional festivals, firework festivals, music festivals, mountain hiking and so much more. If you’re travelling to Japan between June and August, don’t forget to include the following on your to-do your list.
1. Traditional Festivals
There are so many festivals (matsuri) during the summer that it almost seems like every day is a festival in Japan. Many are of a traditional nature, with people getting dressed up in their beautiful cotton kimonos and other ceremonial garments to participate. Festivals are often steeped in ancient mythology and legend, with some honouring the spirits of long dead ancestors, some welcoming the spirit of ancestors and others aiming to ward off dark forces before the start of harvest season. City streets are decorated with beautiful decorations, with a different theme for each. Performers play traditional music, dance in parades and engage in a wide-range of traditional (and often very odd) activities.
2. Summer Music Festivals, 2016
Music festivals are one of the most popular events in Japan, especially for the young and cool. Fuji Rock Festival is the most famous and largest of its kind in Japan, attracting 100,000 fans every year and boasting a lineup of international and domestic acts. Smaller, or should we say more intimate, festivals have proliferated in recent years, so wherever you find yourself, make sure you check-out what’s going on. Tickets can be purchased easily online or at convenience stores.
3. Firework Festivals, 2016
The summer sky is ablaze with colour all summer long in Japan. In Tokyo, the Sumida River Firework Display is the most famous and largest firework festival and a lot of fun to get involved in. Firework competitions are also a common occurrence, pitting display masters from across the nation against each other in a battle for glory and bragging rights. For further details read our article on Japanese Firework Festivals 2016.
4. Summer Food
Every season is a perfect season for eating in Japan, but summer especially so.
The surprisingly refreshing somen noodles are hard to beatThere are numerous varieties available, served with sauce and side dishes of chopped cucumber, ham, tomatoes and shredded egg and all equally delicious. Nagayashi somen is one of the most commonly available types, served on a bamboo tray with a delectible sauce.
Food stalls are a common site wherever there are people and sunshine. The fare on offer is typically basic but moreish. Yhyakitori (grilled chicken skewers), yaki-soba (fried noodles), tako-yaki (battered, fried octopus pieces), okonomiyaki (fried savoury ‘pancakes’), aika-yaki (grilled squid on skewers) are all favourites and widely available.
For those with a sweet tooth, kakigori is a typical summer dessert, made with shaved ice, sweet syrup, and condensed milk and topped with sweet beans, fruit and a scoop of ice cream. Syrup flavours range but include strawberry, lemon, green tea, cola and melon.
5. Summer Beer Gardens
Japan’s beer garden season is upon us. Mostly, beer gardens spring up on the rooftops of the major department stores, hotels and in parks. A refreshing drink at a beer garden is an ideal way to enjoy the summer weather, popular after work with friends or with family. There are different types of food available in the beer gardens including steaks, vegetable dishes, desserts. Beer gardens are a big draw in Japan, so be wary of crowds.
Beautiful beaches abound up and down the length of Japan, though some of the best can be found on the island of Okinawa, the countries southernmost prefecture. Though if you’re stuck in the capital you do have some options. Odaiba, Shirhama beach, Kamakura Beach and Enoshima are all worth checking out.
Those after something to get the blood pumping slightly more should take advantage of the range of watersports available at beachside locations. Plentiful restaurants also cater to the crowds, ensuring no one goes swimming on an empty stomach.
7. Hiking and Climbing Mount Fuji
The on-season for climbing Fuji begins in July and ends in September, marking the summer out as your one chance to scale the landmark. The temperature on the mountain remains cold throughout the season, so it could be the perfect opportunity to take a break from the heat. For more details check out our comprehensive guide to climbing Mt. Fuji here.
If tackling Fuji sounds a bit too much, other areas such as the Japanese Alps, Kamikochi and the mountains of the Kii Peninsula provide beautiful trails with minimum danger.
8. Scuba Diving
Japan is one of the best destinations for world class scuba diving. Popular spots include:
Cold water diving and abundant marine life is the name of the game here. Diving under the drift ice in the Sea of Okhotsk off the northern coast is an unforgettable experience and Shiretoko Peninsula is also well worth checking out.
Between February and August is the best time of the year to dive here, promising glimpses of whales, a variety of sharks, soft coral seahorses and so much more.
If you’re planning to visit Izu Peninsula, make it a weekday, the destination being highly popular with Tokyoites on weekends. Beat the crowds and you’re in for an excellent time.
Okinawa is considered as one of the best places to dive in Japan, giving you the opportunity to swim with manta rays, hammerhead sharks and sea turtles among beautiful coral reefs. Okinawa is a paradise, though it’s up to you if it’s worth the extra air miles.
9. Flower Gardens and Lavender Fields
Japan in bloom is a marvel and the various flower gardens and lavender fields nationwide give you direct access, some gardens even allowing visitors to pick their own to take home. Whether you’re confined to the city or able to go further afield, options are every where:
Saika no Sato – Sasaki Farm
The best time to visit this garden is between June to early August. A stroll around allows you to enjoy the beautiful sunflowers, lupins, poppies, marigolds, salvias and cosmos. Flowers can be picked to take home, costing around 700 yen.
Himawari no Sato – Sunflower Garden
This is one of the biggest sunflower gardens in Japan, situated in Hokkaido. Sunflowers will be in full bloom from early to mid-August. You can rent a bicycle to get around and it’s free!
Higashizawa Rose Park
The best time to visit this rose park is between June and September. There are about 20,000 roses in all from all over the world. Rose festivals are held in the garden throughout the summer, with an entrance fee around 600 yen per person. Entrance is free on a regular day. The park is located in Murayama shi, Yamagata Prefecture.
Sakura Furusato Hiroba
Famous for its extensive selection, this park is a delight year-round but especially pleasant in the summer months. Entry to the park is free and it is situated in Chiba Prefecture.
Kuju Hana Koen
Located in Oita Prefecture, this is a summer park (closed December-March) with an abundance 0f beautiful lavenders, dahlias, and sunflowers. Entrance is roughly 1,300 yen per person.
10. Fruit Picking
Fruit picking is a fun, family-friendly novelty in the summer months. There are various farms all around Japan where you can enjoy picking seasonal fruits to take home or sell-on. Rules and regulations vary from farm to farm, as does entrance fee.
For reference, you can pick the following fruits in the following months:
Cherries – June and July
Peaches – June to August
Plums – July and August
Grapes – August and September
Pears – August – November