Summer in Japan – Your Complete Guide to a Japanese Summer
What's the weather like in Japan in summer? Where are the best places to go? What are the best things to do? Fear not, we've got it all covered for you in our comprehensive guide to summer in Japan.
Any research into the best time to go to Japan will undoubtedly throw you head first into a number of passionate proclamations about the beauty of the sakura (cherry blossom) season. We’re not going to deny the splendor of spring in Japan, but we’re here to sing the praises of Japan’s lesser-known summer charm.
The majority of the nation has an open hatred for the heat of summer and will advise you to avoid the months of July and August completely. Dig a little deeper however and most people will soon reveal a nostalgic fondness for the unlimited outdoor events, traditional celebrations and the joy of summer food and drinks.
Admittedly the months of summer in Japan, running from June to the end of August, can be unpleasantly hot and humid. However, there are benefits to this sticky time of year: Summer is classed as the off-season, meaning that you will avoid the crowds and find some of the cheapest prices going; warm evenings are a blessing as they open up a whole number of nighttime activities; and the beauty of nature can be appreciated almost anywhere with the abundant green trees and flowers in bloom, especially if you can make it to the countryside. Here’s our comprehensive guide to summer in Japan, including our rundown of some of the top things to do and places to go during your summer holiday.
Japan Summer Weather Guide
Summer in Japan officially begins in June and sizzles on until the end of August. That said, the weather usually stays pleasantly warm until October and some summer events carry on until mid-September.
The highest temperatures are reached in August when it can get as hot as 40ºC (105ºF), but the average is closer to the high 20s (75-85ºF). In July and August humidity levels are around 70-80% so be prepared to get hot and sweaty. Fun little fact: Sweating supposedly helps you lose weight, benefits the skin and means you can eat more salt and sugar to replenish yourself. No need for workouts on this holiday!
Summer is kicked off with a wet and humid month known as tsuyu, the rainy season, which typically runs from around the beginning of June to mid-July. However, this is dependent on the area, starting earlier in the south of Japan and making its way up north. The most northerly island, Hokkaido, doesn’t experience a rainy season at all.
Clothes-wise, if you’re looking to fit in it is recommended that you don’t flash too much flesh on your top half, especially on trains. Japanese women tend to continue to layer up through summer and salarymen can still be seen in full suits throughout the hottest parts of the year. As the air conditioning is blasted out in almost every indoor area, it is worthwhile carrying around a light layer to avoid getting the chills. You can avoid the drastic contrast in temperatures on the train by looking for the “low air conditioning” carriage (弱冷房車).
Typhoon season takes place in September. If you’re in Japan during this time, be sure to follow the weather guidelines to ensure that you’re up to date. Typhoons are unpredictable and, although at times harmless, they can cause strong and dangerous winds so it is recommended that you stay at home until it has passed.
Japan Summer Festivals
Although festivals take place throughout the country all through the year, the majority of celebrations are clustered around the summer months. A warm summer evening in Japan can find you stumbling across anything from a small local matsuri festival to a big hanabi taikai festival. Festivals are often identifiable by a web of lanterns and food stalls lining bustling streets filled with excitable yukata-clad youths and families.
Matsuri – A local festival that often involves a mikoshi procession in which a portable Shinto shrine is paraded around the streets. These matsuri can be found all over the country and are the perfect way to experience some authentic Japanese traditions, try out the festival food and soak up the summer vibes. Take a look at our Japanese Summer Festival Guide and find out how to enjoy them like a local.
Hanabi Taikai – Big fireworks festivals that only take place in July or August. The most common word associated with summer in Japan is hanabi (fireworks), literally meaning fire flowers. And Japan most certainly knows how to flaunt their fire flowers, with displays lasting up to two hours. Make sure you catch one of Japan’s firework festivals if you’re visiting over summer with some help from our extensive Hanabi Survival Guide.
Music festivals – Maybe you thought the biggest names could only be found at the Western music festivals. But think again! Everybody wants to be big in Japan these days and the country is rapidly gaining a healthy reputation for its ever-growing music festivals. See what takes your fancy with our 18 recommended music festivals.
Japan Summer Food & Outdoor Dining
Japan has clear distinctions between its seasons and with each change in temperature comes a transformation in gastronomy. Over the summer months, the theme tends to focus on food and drink that cool you down. The numerous vending machines replace warming winter beverages with even more choice of thirst-quenching sports drinks, flavored sodas and iced coffees as sweet as summer’s showers. Kitkat take the opportunity to market more weird and wonderful flavors including the summery tastes of watermelon and apple vinegar. (Don’t miss our guide to the Top 20 Most Unique Kit Kat Flavors.) A nation of ice cream lovers, you’ll find iced goodies on every corner. An obvious must-try is the famous matcha ice cream but another popular summer treat is kakigōri, a pile of shaved ice topped with any number of different sweet flavorings and a choice to add toppings such as anko (red bean paste), nuts, fruit, cream, sweets – You name it and they’ll have it.
Temperature lowering solutions aren’t limited to drinks and desserts, though. Some savory summer dishes include tsukemen, the summer’s answer to ramen where you dip the separated noodles into a chilled soup. Other favorites not to miss are hiyashi chūka (cold noodles, ham and vegetables), sōmen (refreshing thin noodles in cold soup) and rei shabu (strips of thinly cooked beef dipped in cold soup and dips). If the thought of cold soup doesn’t tempt you, now’s your time to try eel, an enduring summer dish.
Complete your summer evening at one of Japan’s many outdoor eating or drinking establishments. Nothing tops off that summer feeling like enjoying a cold beer and dinner al fresco, surrounded by chattering salarymen and the song of the cicadas. Whether a bustling restaurant down a small alleyway or a sophisticated rooftop bar, you’ll be asking yourself why anybody could ever complain about summer in Japan.
Climbing Mount Fuji
Arguably the landmark the most commonly associated with Japan, Mount Fuji is unarguably something most people would like to get a glimpse of on their trip to Japan. While the immense volcano is sometimes visible from Tokyo, unfortunately this is only on clear days and mainly during the winter months. So your best bet is to make the trip right up to the 3776-metre beast and challenge yourself by clambering your way to the top.
It is only recommended to climb Mount Fuji during the summer months: from early July to mid-September. As this is a short window the trails can become busy, littered with locals and tourists alike. If possible avoid the week of Obon (mid-August) which is a week of national holiday. If you’re looking for a quieter hike the best times to go are before the school holidays which start around July 20th or the beginning of September.
Have all your Fuji climbing related questions answered in our guide: Climbing Mt. Fuji – a Guide
Top tip: As well as experiencing the spectacular views from the summit, you shouldn’t miss out on the incredible sight of the mountain itself from afar. You can spend a night at Yamanaka-ko Lake (as seen above) or nearby onsen town Hakone for the full Mount Fuji experience. Be warned, to guarantee a good view you’ll need to get up for sunrise as the clouds move in quickly and there is reduced visibility for the rest of the day.
Japan is celebrated for a number of things, but for some reason its beaches aren’t one of them. While there may be fewer beautiful beaches than you’d expect with 18,500 miles (30,000km) of coastline, ideal sunbathing and volleyball spots are available – you just need to know where to find them. Dedicated sun worshipers should look into a short plane trip down to Japan’s tropical island, Okinawa, for the ultimate beach experience. While those of you that don’t insist on white sands and green waters should be just as happy with what the main islands of Japan have to offer. We’ve shared our tips with you in our guide to Japan’s Secret Beach Destinations.
It may sound morbid to say but there’s something beautiful about the fact fireflies only live for a few weeks. They hatch from their larvae, put on an unearthly light show to attract a mate then pass away as soon as they have reproduced. The fireflies’ mating ritual is one of ethereal beauty. A chemical reaction in the males abdomen creates a luminous glow which they flash on and off to attract females. As the beetles tend to congregate in one place, often in wooded areas, this creates an incredible scene of flashing lights resembling dancing fairies. This mesmerizing creature’s short existence doesn’t go unnoticed in Japan with thousands of people venturing out in the night during the month of June to watch the insects lighting up the dark. Be sure to have a chat with a local to find out the best spots in the area you’re staying.
Tips for Keeping Cool
You still want to make the most of your trip to Japan in spite of the heat so here are our top tips for surviving summer in Japan:
– Visit Hokkaido, Japan’s most northern island.
– Accept the free hand fans given out in the street.
– Carry around a damp towel to put around your neck.
– Stick to indoor activities during the hottest part of the day, whether that’s museums, cafes, restaurants or karaoke.
– Carry a parasol – Maybe you’ll feel a bit silly but it’s common for people to use umbrellas rain or shine.
– Drink cold tea – As long as you have a kettle and a fridge you can make up some tea and chill it in the fridge. This works for all types of Japanese tea.
– To stay shine and frizz-free you’ll see that the Japanese use face-blotting sheets, small handkerchiefs for face dabbing and lots of hair smoothing products.
Japan Summer Cities
Now that you know the basics of summer in Japan it’s time to start planning the rest of your trip. Take a peek at our guides to the perfect summer activities in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe.