Obon: One of the Biggest Celebrations in Japanese Culture

Obon: One of the Biggest Celebrations in Japanese Culture

Obon (お盆, おぼん) also known as Bon (盆, ぼん), is an annual Japanese festival taking place August 13th to 15th. The festival was originally celebrated during the “7th month” of to the lunar calendar. It is still celebrated in July in some regions, but August is now the official date. It is one of Japan’s three major holidays, along with New Year’s and Golden Week, and has been celebrated for over 500 years. Many people take this week to return home and visit family. This three-day celebration honors the spirits of our ancestors.

On the first day of Obon, people go out to visit the graves of loved ones. They take time to clean up the graves and leave offerings and paper lanterns (提灯, ちょちん). Lanterns are also lit and hung outside of homes as a way to guide the spirits back to them. This tradition of calling back ancestors is known as mukae-bon (迎え盆, むかえぼん). Some people even light small fires at the entrances of their homes to help guide the spirits. These fires are known as mukae-bi (迎え火, むかえび).

In preparation of their ancestors’ arrival, some households will create shōryō uma (精霊馬, しょうりょううま). A shōryō uma, or “spirit horse,” is made from a vegetable, usually an eggplant or cucumber, and wooden sticks to form a horse or cow. These creations are then placed on the family altar. They are meant to give the ancestors’ spirits a more comfortable way to travel from the afterlife.

The second day of Obon is dedicated to bon odori (盆踊り, ぼんおどり). This traditional dance has been in Japan for over 600 years. It is performed during Obon to show appreciation for the sacrifices our ancestors have made. Each region has its own dances and music. Typically, though, taiko drums are used and dancers in matching outfits (usually yukata) dance in synchronicity. The bon odori is held locally in public spaces such as parks, temples or shrines, and is celebrated as a festival. Visitors can enjoy the show, dance on the sidelines, and eat festival food.

On the third and final day of Obon, families use lanterns to help their ancestors return to their resting places. This tradition is known as okuri-bon (送り盆, おくりぼん). It has become popular in recent years to send lanterns down a body of water. This ritual consists of lighting a candle and placing it in a floating lantern called a toro nagashi (灯籠流し, とうろうながし). The lanterns are then placed in a nearby lake or river or even the ocean and sent afloat. This is believed to help the ancestors return to where they belong, and it makes for a breathtaking sight! Another mukae-bi fire is sometimes lit to close the ceremony.

In addition to these traditions, many festivals occur during the days of Obon. Typical matsuri events occur with games, entertainment, fireworks, and lots of food! These festivals happen throughout the country and vary by region. One of the most famous of these festivals is the one held in Tokushima in the Shikoku region. It is famous for the Awa Dance Festival held on the second day, when the bon odori, known here as awa odori, is performed. Another popular festival is Daimonji (大文字, だいもんじ), officially known as Gozan no Okuribi (五山送り火, ごぜんのおくりび), in Kyoto. At the close of Obon, massive mukaebi fires are lit on the mountains outside the city. These fires are burned in the shapes of certain kanji, the most famous being 大.

Obon is a one of a kind celebration in Japan. It is a time for tradition and honoring those who have passed, but it is also a time for celebration and enjoyment. Since Obon is such a big holiday that draws large crowds, it is best to plan ahead if you will be in Japan during this time. Even so, it is entirely worth it to get to experience a beautiful and authentic Obon celebration!

20 Popular Matsuri Foods

20 Popular Matsuri Foods

Summer in Japan is known as matsuri season! Matsuri (まつり) are festivals that go on throughout Japan and celebrate a variety of things. While these festivals happen throughout the year, the majority of them occur during the summer months. These matsuri have dancing, games, and most importantly, food! Matsuri food is a beloved part of Japanese culture. Food is cooked and sold at matsuri from food stands known as yatai (屋台, やたい). The food available changes to fit the seasons, but here are some of Japan’s most famous matsuri treats!

Takoyaki (たこ焼き, たこやき)

Takoyaki is a staple of matsuri! Like many other festival foods, takoyaki originated in Osaka. It is created using a batter poured into a specially-made pan to help them get their iconic ball shape. Diced squid is added along with tempura crumbles, pickled ginger, and green onions. Once fried, they are drizzled with mayonnaise and takoyaki sauce, which is a mix of Worchester sauce and ketchup. They are then topped with dried seaweed known as aonori (青のり, あおのり) and dried bonito flakes known as katsuobushi (鰹節, かつおぶし). Takoyaki is usually served in a small tray and eaten with toothpicks or chopsticks.

Yakisoba (焼きそば, やきそば)

Yakisoba means “fried noodles” as 焼き means fried, and そば is a common buckwheat noodle. It is a stir-fried noodle dish with all ingredients cooked in the same pan. Classic yakisoba sauce is made with Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, oyster sauce, and soy sauce. Common mix-ins include pork, onions and cabbage with aonori, and bonito flakes on top.

Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き, おこのみやき)

Okonomiyaki is another common festival food with origins in Osaka. It is a savory pancake made from a wheat-based batter with plenty of toppings and mix-ins. In the batter, the most common ingredients to add are meat or seafood and cabbage. On top, the pancake is drizzled with mayonnaise and okonomiyaki sauce, which is a mixture of Worcestershire sauce and ketchup. Toppings include aonori, bonito flakes, and pickled ginger. Okonomiyaki are sometimes made into hashimaki (箸巻き, はしまき), which is an okonomiyaki wrapped around chopsticks. This version is most popular in the Kansai region. It makes eating okonomiyaki at a festival much easier!

Karaage (唐揚げ, かたあげ)

Karaage is Japanese fried chicken, which makes sense because 揚げ (あげ) means “deep fried.” The term karaage refers to any food that is coated and deep fried in oil, but it is most often assumed to mean chicken. The chicken is first marinated, usually in a mixture of soy sauce, sake, and ginger. It is then coated in potato starch or flour and deep fried. It is served in a cone or a cup with a toothpick for easy eating!

Dango (団子, だんご)

Dango is one of the most iconic Japanese treats! Dango are small Japanese dumplings that are made from rice flour which is rolled into balls, boiled, and placed on skewers. Some dango have a filling while others have toppings or sauces. The most common dango is the anko dango (あんこ団子, あんこだんご), which has a red bean paste filling. Another popular one is the mitarashi dango (みたらし団子, みたらしだんご), which consists of dango covered in a soy sauce glaze for a perfect balance of savory and sweet. One of the most iconic dango, however, is the hanami dango (花見だんご, はなみだんご), the green, white, and pink dango eaten during cherry blossom.

Choco Banana (チョコバナナ)

Choco Bananas are a simple but fun and delicious festival treat. They consist of a peeled banana skewered and covered in chocolate. These bananas can be simple or elaborate with toppings such as sprinkles and candies. Over the years, they have gotten more extravagant. It is now common to use white chocolate dyed in bright colors and decorate the bananas to look like little characters.

Crepes (クレープ)

While originally a French food, crepes have become hugely popular in Japan. Crepes are extremely thin pancakes that are filled with an array of ingredients. In Japan, the sweet crepes are by far the most popular. Festivals or food carts sell them in cones for easy handling. Ice cream, Nutella and custard are used as fillings. They often include fruit, particularly bananas, strawberries, or kiwis. They can then be topped with whipped cream, chocolate, candy such as pocky, and more fruit. The possibilities are endless!

Ikayaki (いか焼き, いかやき)

Ikayaki is a classic festival and street food. It consists of a squid grilled and covered in soy sauce or teriyaki sauce. Before grilling, the squid is marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, miso, ginger, and sake. Like many festival foods, it is served on a skewer for easy handling.

Yakitori (焼き鳥, やきとり)

Yakitori is another classic festival food! It is made by skewering chicken, grilling it then coating it with a sauce or flavoring. The skewers also sometimes include thick slices of scallions interspersed throughout the chicken. Yakitori traditionally comes in two flavors, salt or tare sauce. Tare sauce, also known as yakitori tare (焼き鳥のタレ, やきとりタレ), is a glaze made from soy sauce, mirin, sake, and sugar.

Taiyaki (鯛焼き, たいやき)

Taiyaki is made from a pancake or waffle batter poured into a special mold to get its classic fish shape. These fish-shaped cakes have a sweet filling usually made from red bean paste, but can include other fillings such as chocolate or custard. Taiyaki has also been modified to a cone shape, so they can work as a waffle cone and be filled with ice cream!

Kakigori (かき氷, かきごうり)

Kakigori is shaved ice flavored with syrup and condensed milk. This treat is served in a bowl and packed with a mound of towering shaved ice, which makes them an ideal treat during Japan’s hot and humid summers. The ice is similar to a snow cone, but with a fluffier, snow-like consistency. It is flavored with syrup, usually in a fruit flavor such as strawberry, melon, cherry, or even green tea. Condensed milk is poured on top to add extra sweetness. Sometimes toppings such as fruit or dango are then added on top.

Ramune (ラムネ)

Ramune is a classic sign of summer in Japan. It is a carbonated drink with a unique bottle neck that includes a glass marble. When the marble is pressed down on to open the bottle, it releases the pressure within the bottle and activates the carbonation. Ramune first came in a lemon-lime flavor and received its name from English word “lemonade.” Today, ramune comes in nearly 60 flavors!

Roasted Sweet Potato (焼き芋, やきいも)

Sweet potatoes are eaten as a common snack or street food in Japan. Sweet potatoes sold by street vendors or yatai are roasted and kept warm with hot stones. They are most commonly sold during the fall and winter festivals because they help keep you warm!

Yaki Tomorokoshi (焼きとうもろこし, やきともろこし)

Grilled corn is a summer classic around the world and Japan is no exception! Grilled corn is a common treat at summer festivals (夏祭り, なつまつり). Ears of sweet summer corn are shucked and grilled. They are then coated in a sauce made from soy sauce and/or miso.

Jagabata (じゃがバター)

じゃがバター comes from the fusion of じゃがいも (potato) and バター (butter). This self-explanatory name is used to refer to cooked potatoes with a helping of butter. It is a simple treat but is a comfort food to many. The plain potatoes are boiled or grilled, then split open and topped with a pad of butter. Some people choose to add toppings such as soy sauce or salt. These are especially popular during cherry blossom season.

Mizuame Candy and Fruit (水飴, みずあめ)

Mizuame translates to “water candy.” It is a syrup-like sweetener that is often used to coat fruit. Common fruits used are cherries, strawberries, and orange slices. The coated fruits are kept on ice to keep the mizuame from melting.

Carnival Classics

Classic treats we may see at a carnival are also available at matsuri! Cotton candy (わたあめ) is very popular at festivals, especially with kids. It can come in a bag or on a stick in multiple colors and fun shapes. Candy apples, known in Japan as りんご飴 (りんごあめ) are also very popular at festivals, especially in the summer.

Savory carnival-type foods are also available. This includes corn dogs (アメリカンドッグ –), which translates to “American dog.” Fries (フライドポテト) are also a classic! They come in a variety of styles, including tornado potatoes, which consist of a potato on a skewer cut to make a spiral shape.

25 Japanese Words to Know for Matsuri Season

25 Japanese Words to Know for Matsuri Season

The majority of Japanese festivals happen during the summer months, so summer is known as festival season in Japan! Some of Japan’s biggest festivals occur during summer, including Obon and Tanabata. Festival in Japanese is matsuri (まつり). Matsuri all celebrate different occasions and holidays, but many share some classic festivities.

One of the things matsuri are most famous for is the food! Festival food is served from yatai (屋台, やたい). Yatai are carts or stands that allow vendors to cook and sell food at the same time. Foods sold at matsuri vary throughout the year, but the most popular include dango, taiyaki, takoyaki, and yakitori.

Most matsuri feature parades of some kind. Dashi (山車, だし) floats are commonly used in parades. These floats are massive, decorated structures that can reach several stories high. They typically have wheels and are pulled along the parade route by several people. Sometimes people sit inside or on top of the floats and provide music and entertainment.

Also featured in parades are mikoshi (神輿, みこし). These are portable shrines carried through the parade route like a palanquin. They often resemble miniature buildings with ornate pillars and roofs. Mikoshi are not to be ridden on like dashi as they are sacred.

Another common parade sight are taiko drummers. Taiko (太鼓, たいこ) are traditional Japanese drums that have been used in Japan as early as the 6th century. Taiko drums are carried through the route by their drummers, who play on the drums as they walk. The drummers wear matching ensembles and work in a synchronized fashion.

Since many matsuri happen during the evening, paper lanterns are used to light them up! These paper lanterns are known as ちょちん. They have been used in Japan for centuries and are made of paper or silk around a bamboo frame. They can also be seen hanging outside businesses, temples, shrines and izakayas. Some dashi are even covered in paper lanterns!

Like any big celebration, matsuri also often include fireworks! Firework in Japanese is 花火 (はなび), which literally translates to “fire flower.”

Live entertainment is also common at matsuri. Shinto-related matsuri may feature kagura (神楽, かぐら), a traditional performance with music, dancing, and costumes. Kabuki (歌舞伎, かぶき) are another form of entertainment found often at Shinto festivals. Kabuki are dance plays put on by performers in elaborate costumes and make-up.

Matsuri began as religious celebrations, and many of them remain so. Because of this, many matsuri happen around shrines and are dedicated to the deity of that shrine. Deity in Japanese is 神 (かみ). Shrine is 神社 (じんじゃ), not to be confused with temple, which is 寺 (てら). Castles, known as 城 (じょう), are also a common place for festivals to be held.

Matsuri are a time for tradition in Japan. Because of this, festivals are one of the times of the year when kimonos (着物, きもの) are worn. Kimonos used to be typical attire in Japan. That changed in the mid-twentieth century, when Western clothing became more available. Now, festivals are sometimes the only time some people wear traditional clothing. During the hot summer months, many trade in their kimono for a lightweight version known as a yukata (浴衣, ゆかた). Wooden platform shoes known as geta (下駄, げた) are worn with kimonos. Special socks known as tabi (足袋, たび) are worn with these shoes, but can be left off when wearing a yukata.

To accompany the traditional dress, some women opt to carry a kinchaku (巾着, きんちゃく). A kinchaku is a traditional drawstring bag made of cloth. They are used to carry personal effects and money around the festival.

Depending on the matsuri, some people may wear traditional masks. These masks may be in the appearance of oni (鬼, おに), demons, or tengu (天狗, てんぐ), goblins. These masks could be worn for fun or as part of a traditional belief that they will scare off demons.

Festivals are also known for having games! Typical carnival-type games are commonly held in festival booths. One of the most famous games is goldfish scooping. Known in Japanese as 金魚すくい (きんぎょすくい), this is a traditional Japanese game that has been played for over a century. The game consists of the player using a ポイ, a handheld paddle made of paper. The player must use the paddle to scoop up as many live goldfish as they can before the water destroys the paddle. The player can then keep whatever fish they have caught as pets and the festival will provide a bag to carry them in. This game is especially popular during summer matsuri.

Super Ball Scooping (スーパーボールすくい) is a variant of goldfish scooping. The rules and techniques are the same, but instead of live goldfish, players scoop up bouncy balls. Like the fish, they can keep all the balls they manage to win.

Yo Yo Tsuri (ヨーヨーつり) is another popular summer matsuri game. The game features a pool or tub filled with small, colorful balloons. These balloons are partially filled with water to give them some weight, and a string or rubber band is tied to the end. The player is given a length of lightweight paper with a hook on the end. The player must hook a balloon and lift it up without the paper breaking.

Ring Toss is known in Japan as 輪投げ (わなげ), and it is also a common festival game, especially during the summer. Thin poles stick out of the ground or table and players toss rings in an attempt to catch them on the poles.

Shateki (射的, しゃてき) is another classic carnival game that has variations around the world. It is a target shooting game where players are given a pop-gun, which uses air to shoot out a cork when the trigger is pulled. Players shoot the cork at the targets in hopes of knocking them down. The harder the target is to knock down, the bigger and better the prize!

5 Thrilling Autumn Festivals in Japan you can’t miss!

5 Thrilling Autumn Festivals in Japan you can’t miss!

Everyone wants to see sakura (桜) during spring in Japan. Others anticipate the powdered yuki (雪, snow) during Japanese winter. Summer in Japan calls for beach and bikinis. Autumn’s left out of this hype.

Contrary to popular belief, aki (秋, autumn) is actually one of the most festive seasons in Japan! The foliage is reason enough to be roaming around the country sightseeing. Japanese tourists try to catch an autumn festival (祭り, matsuri) or two while they’re in a different town. But here’s the thing: there are too many festivals to choose from! So we’ve shortlisted 5 of the most thrilling ones for you to look out for. 

1. Tori no Ichi (Nationwide)

Credit: Yoshikazu TAKADA on Flickr Creative Commons

An aki matsuri (秋祭り, autumn festival) you don’t want to miss is Tori no Ichi. This translates to “Day of the Bird”. This festival can be dated back to the Edo period and is celebrated nationwide. The biggest celebration of this festival you can find is in Tokyo. But don’t worry, if you’re not in the city during that time, there are others in various cities. The exact date follows the lunar calendar and falls on the day of the rooster. In olden days, this day let farmers know to harvest and sell their goods. Generally, it’s either early November or late November, around the 8th and 9th or 20th and 21st.

2. Takayama Autumn Festival (Gifu)

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Up in Gifu Prefecture, there’s the Takayama Autumn Festival. It’s one of the more famous ones. In a year, more than 100,000 guests from Japan and overseas travel to Takayama City just for this occasion. The celebration has been going on annually for more than 350 years. The main highlight of this festival is the floats. You’ll see rows of them parading down the street. Each float is based on a theme of Japanese culture (文化).

This festival usually happens in early October. If you miss out on this one, the Takayama Spring Festival happens in the middle of April. It’s just as thrilling and exciting.

3. Kurama Fire Festival (Kyoto)

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If you find yourself in the ancient capital city of Kyoto at the end of October, you’re right in time for the Kurama Fire Festival. This matsuri is all about fire (火, hi). It takes place not too far from the central city of Kyoto. It is in the mountains of Kurama, though, so bring your outdoor clothes!

Unlike the first two, this festival only starts after sunset. Those involved in the parade will be in costumes and carrying torches as they walk down the streets towards Yuki-jinja Shrine. This festival is like Obon, as it welcomes the spirits from the shrine to the village. It’s believed that the spirits can offer protection for the residents. Stay till the end for a huge bonfire!

4. Nihonmatsu Lantern Festival (Fukushima)

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Nihonmatsu Lantern Festival is all about lanterns. Duh! This festival takes place in Fukushima at Nihonmatsu Shrine at the start of October. You’ll be able to witness more than 300 lanterns all lit up, surrounded by approximately 65,000 people! The lanterns are arranged on 7 different floats and the celebration begins after sunset. You’ll hear taiko drums and flute music accompanying the parade.

This matsuri honours the Hachiman and Kumano gods of Nihonmatsu Shrine. Locals believe that they these gods give power to the rice plants and harvesting season.

5. Supernatural Cat Festival (Tokyo)

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Last but not least, we circle back to central Japan, in Tokyo! Out of all the crazy festivals this city has, Bake Neko has to be the one we highlight. Supernatural Cat Festival falls on the 13th of October every year in Kagurazaka neighbourhood. It’s all about…neko (猫, cat)! You put on a cat costume, pay an entry fee of ¥500, and join the parade! If you don’t have a costume, the on-site makeup artist can transform you into one.

Bake Neko isn’t just a parade, although that’s the main attraction. There are performances and food and souvenir stalls for you to enjoy. Not your typical traditional Japanese festival, but it is uniquely Japan.

Get Festive!

There are all sorts of festivals happening in Japan all year round. Autumn festivals are abundant, but these five shouldn’t be missed! Whether it’s appreciating the gods or shape shifting into a feline, trust Japan to have a celebration for that.

What to Do in Japan in Fall: Top 10 Amazing Autumn Activities

What to Do in Japan in Fall: Top 10 Amazing Autumn Activities

Fall is one of the best seasons in Japan to travel around the country. Even the locals take time off to witness the leaves change colours to a mix of red, orange and yellow. Not to mention the various autumn festivals happening nationwide. There’s quite a lot to do and see in Japan in the autumn season. Trying to cram all of them into one trip is more of a problem than not having anything to do.

Instead of packing your schedule with too many activities, we’re going to highlight the 10 best things to do in Japan in the fall.

1. Enjoy the autumn foliage

The most popular activity in Japan during the autumn season is enjoying the autumn foliage, known as kouyou (紅葉) in Japanese. Locals and tourists alike take day trips to witness the vibrant leaves. Travellers go north and south for the best views. The most popular destinations include Kyoto and Nikko. Kyoto is just a half an hour’s train ride away from Osaka; Nikko is an hour and a half away from the capital city Tokyo by train.

Even if you don’t have the time to travel to these cities, the entire country is full of autumn-vibrant trees. Parks and gardens in Tokyo and Osaka are just as magnificent as any other.

2. Feast in autumn season cuisine

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The weather is not the only thing that changes with the seasons in Japan. The Japanese love their seasonal dishes. Take this opportunity to feast in autumn seasonal cuisine. The most popular autumn dish is anything to do with Japanese sweet potato. This vegetable is known for its high nutritional value and rich flavours. You’ll likely find them roasted, known as “yakiimo” (焼き芋) in Japanese. They’re sold everywhere from street stalls to travel vans.

Autumn is also the best time to savour wagashi (和菓子), Japanese sweets. During the fall, you’ll get flavours of apple, permission, chestnut and, of course, sweet potato.

3. Visit fall festivals

Credit: Adrian on Flickr Creative Commons

If you don’t already know yet, Japan is full of festivities all year round. Most say that summer is the best season for festivals, but autumn has its fair share of exciting and thrilling neighbourhood events. Fall festivals (aki matsuri, 秋祭り) are mostly entertaining deities with dance and music. This is a way of thanking them for a successful harvest.
In Osaka Prefecture, one of the most famous festivals is called the Kishiwada Danjiri Festival. This is one of the more classic ones and historically practised as a prayer for a successful harvest.

4. Celebrate Halloween the Japanese way

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For some of us, the biggest event in fall is Halloween. If you happen to find yourself in Japan during the time, don’t expect to celebrate this holiday the way you would in Western countries. Japan has their own unique way of celebrating this fun event.

You could definitely spend Halloween at theme parks like Disneyland, DisneySea and Universal Studios Japan. In October, these theme parks go through a makeover that includes the likes of pumpkins and spider webs.
But the best event you wouldn’t want to miss out on is on Halloween day itself at Tokyo’s Shibuya Scramble Crossing. Hundreds and thousands of people dress up and gather in this area. A similar but smaller-scale version happens at Osaka’s Amemura neighbourhood.

5. Drink up at Oktober Fest

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If Halloween isn’t the first event that pops in your mind for October, then it definitely has to be Oktober Fest. Japan also celebrates this event in big cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Yokohama. The most popular one is at Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse, where the event Yokohama Oktoberfest runs for almost the whole month of October.

From musical performances and other events to European snacks and a few pints of German beer, it’s almost like you’re not in Japan anymore.

6. Admire Kochia scrubs

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A unique plant called “kochia” changes colour throughout the year. In fall, it transforms into a reddish-pink. This is a sight you don’t want to miss. If you find yourself in Ibaraki Prefecture, drop by Hitachi Seaside Park where there are hills of these scrubs. Definitely worth a visit and take a picture or two for the gram.

7. Stroll through pampas grass

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Another nature spot to explore in the fall in Japan is the Sengokuhara area in Hakone. Hakone is just two hours away from the capital city Tokyo, making it the ideal location for a day trip.

During this time of the year, you’ll get to stroll through fields of tall, pampas grass in Hakone. With the cleared path making it easy to navigate through, you’ll be able to peacefully admire nature’s beauty. This is a perfect break from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo city.

8. Go hiking or trekking

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For those looking for a bit more of an adventure, autumn in Japan is the perfect time to go hiking or trekking. The weather cools down enough for pleasant outdoor activities. You don’t have to venture too far. Close to Tokyo, Mt. Takao is a popular choice for those looking to break a sweat. In fact, this is the most climbed mountain in the world! Not only will you get a workout in but you’ll also be able to see the autumn foliage of the mountain. Kill two birds with one stone!

9. Frolick in the cosmo fields

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I’m a sucker for flowers, and if you are too, don’t miss out on Tokyo’s Showa Kinen Park. Here, you’ll be able to view cosmo flowers in full bloom. In fact, you’ll get to frolick in cosmo fields as big as 15,000 square meters! There’s even a festival for these blooms called the Cosmos Matsuri. Definitely drop by if you’re in town any time from mid-September to the end of October.

10. Gaze at the harvest moon

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One of the highlights of fall in Japan is the annual tradition of moon viewing. Known as otsukimi (お月見) in Japanese, this hundreds-of-years-old event happens between the middle of September and the start of October. Family and friends gather to view the full moon while eating dango (団子). Some areas hold events like a moon-viewing event for people to celebrate this occasion together.

Which will you be doing first?

The list of activities to do in Japan in the fall can go on and on, but these 10 are a good start to get you off on the right foot. Japan’s a country that’s always full of things happening. Even if you don’t plan your trip specifically, you’ll definitely be able to wander the streets and come across an activity randomly. So, which activity will you be doing first in Japan during the autumn season?

The Best 10 Fun Things You Can Do in Japan for the Summer!

The Best 10 Fun Things You Can Do in Japan for the Summer!

Say goodbye to knits and cardigans, and hello to linen dresses and straw hats! Summer is just around the corner. The weather has warmed up enough for us to have picnics in the park and midday strolls. 
Japan’s natsu (夏, summer) has more to offer than that. In fact, this is the season where all the festivities and events happen. Sure, it gets pretty humid and hot during Japanese summer, but it’s all worth it when you know what you’re going to get. Here are the 10 best things you can do in Japan in summer!

1. Go to the beach

Shinto torii gat at a beach

What’s summer without the beach? If you’re wondering what to do in Japan during the summer season, one of the best things is going to the beach. In Japanese, beach is hama (浜), but people understand when you say bīchi (ビーチ)
Regardless of which city you’re in in Japan, there’s always a lovely beach nearby. But if you’re really looking for the best beaches in the country, the southernmost part is where you should go. Okinawa’s beaches are top quality. The umi (海, sea) is crystal blue and the suna (砂, sand) is soft like a pillow.

2. Attend local festivals

Orange lanterns in Japan

The best part about Japan’s summer is the local festivals. You wouldn’t even be wondering what to do in Japan when every other street has rows of yatai (屋台, shop stand). These street stalls have everything from street food to local games. You can participate in them to win prizes! 
These local matsuri (祭り, festival) can go on all day for a weekend or even weeks. If the heat is too much for you to bear, you can pop by in the evening when it’s cooler. A lot of locals would attend these festivals wearing traditional clothes. It’s both entertainment and cultural immersion! 

3. Watch the fireworks

fire works over water

Summer is when you can buy fire crackers in stores for yourself, and watch the firework shows on display. There’s nothing quite like watching hanabi (花火, fireworks) in Japan during the summer. They’re a big deal here. Families, friends, couples and colleagues come together to watch this spectacular show. 
Usually, Japanese people watch the firework show after visiting the local festival. If you’re planning to watch the fireworks in Japan during the summer, be sure to bring a mat and some snacks!

4. Refresh yourself at a beer garden

Beer Garden Maiami
Credit: S.Brickman on Flickr Creative Commons

The heat and humidity during Japanese summer can get rather rough. But don’t worry, Japan has thought of a solution for that. In summer, beer gardens pop up everywhere in the country so you can refresh yourself with a swig of bīru (ビール).
These beer gardens don’t only sell beer. There are other alcoholic beverages like cocktails. For non-drinkers, there are non-alcoholic drinks like soft drinks as well. They’re very family-friendly as well, so parents out there, you’re welcome to join the beer garden party!

5. Swim at water parks

Little girl splashing at a water park.
Credit: Hideya HAMANO on Flickr Creative Commons

If you’re not much of a beach person but still want a soak, go to the water parks in Japan in summer! Wōtā pāku (ワォーター・パーク) is a huge activity that the Japanese locals do during the summer in Japan. You can not only swim (泳ぐ) but also slide down the fun water slides, lie down on big floaties and enjoy the wavepool!
Because it’s such a popular thing to do in Japan in summer, it can get pretty crowded. I would advise to go during a weekday instead of a holiday or weekend.

6. Jam at music events

Music stage with balloons
Credit: Risa Ikeda on Flickr Creative Commons

Whether you’re a music lover or not, you have to attend a music event in Japan during the summer. They’re all anyone ever raves about. These エベント can be both indoors and outdoors. The ones I’ve attended have been in the mountains or at big open spaces.
Music events are the best for making new friends and enjoying the summer nature. And, of course, enjoy the ongaku (音楽). Who knows, you might discover a new artist or two while you’re at it.

7. Beat the heat in Hokkaido

field of flowers in Hokkaido
Credit: Hideya HAMANO on Flickr Creative Commons

Not all of us are fans of the heat and humidity. I know I’m one of them. I have some news for you: you can beat the heat by going up north to Hokkaido. This prefecture is the furthest away from the equator compared to the rest of the country.

It’s much cooler up there. Some even say it’s not humid at all!

When in Hokkaido during the summer, you can go around the hana (花) gardens and parks. The field of bloomed flowers is a sight just as spectacular as the powdered snow Hokkaido is known for.

8. Cool down with shaved ice  

Shaved ice with Azuki
Credit: Hideya HAMANO on Flickr Creative Commons

Other than beer, there’s another way to refresh yourself: kakigōri (かき氷). Translated to shaved ice, locals love this summer dessert. There’s bound to be a store or two at the street stalls at festivals that sell this. 
You can get any kind of flavour and topping for your kakigōri. There’s usually syrup poured on top of the shaved ice with common toppings like corn. Depending on the store, you can get interesting ones!

9. Watch fireflies

Credit: Koichi Hayakawa on Flickr Creative Commons

Head out of the city centres in Japan to the countryside. These areas are best for firefly watching. Both locals and travellers alike head out to inaka (田舎), or rural areas, to catch some fireflies in action. If you’re not sure exactly where to go and how to get there, you can book a tour that’ll do the heavy lifting for you.

10. Wear a yukata

two people in kimono walking down a narrow Japanese street with parasols.

Last but not least, the activity you can do in Japan during summer is wearing a yukata (浴衣). This is a version of the kimono (着物), the traditional wear of Japan. It’s made from a lightweight cotton fabric that’s used only during the summer.
You can wear a yukata to a local festival, any temple or shrine. Or you can just walk around the street to immerse yourself in the Japanese culture. What better way to experience a country than to put yourself in their shoes.

Get ready for Japanese summer!

These ten activities are just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more you can do in Japan in summer. You might even think you don’t have enough time to do them all! Which summer activity are you excited to do in Japan?

Japanese Summer — How Long, How Hot & How to Survive!

Japanese Summer — How Long, How Hot & How to Survive!

We’re almost in the middle of the year, which means that the weather’s going to warm up. Whether it’s to have a dip in the ocean or lie on the soft sand, summer’s greatly anticipated. Japan’s summer, though, is no joke. Not only is it packed with events and festivals like neighbourhood matsuri (祭り) and music shows, but it’s the peak of heat and humidity.

You hear a lot of people talk about Japanese summer and how hot it can get here. How hot are we talking about? I’m telling you, it really is, coming from a girl who grew up on a tropical island.

So before you get packing for your next Japanese summer trip, here are some things you need to know.

People at a summer street festival in Japan.

Image Credit: Kentaro Toma
Natsu (夏) in Japan is something everyone should be talking about. I personally have never experienced humidity like this. And like I said, I grew up in tropical Singapore, so I didn’t think anything could be worse than that.

Japanese summer starts around June and lasts all the way till August. It’s roughly three months, but it can vary depending on exactly which part of Japan you’re in. There’s also global warming, so summer can start as early as late May and last as long as mid-September.

If you find yourself in the southernmost part of Japan, like the Kansai region and Okinawa, you’re going to get a longer summer. Don’t forget the humidity as well. The Kanto region, where the capital city Tokyo is, is not too far off the heat and humidity levels, too. However, if you’re up north in Hokkaido, you not only get a shorter summer but also the cool and not-so-humid weather. That’s why lots of locals travel up north during this time!
If you’re wondering where you should spend the summer in Japan, Tokyo’s your best bet. Here is where you get all the great festivities and events.
Don’t worry if you’re early for Japanese summer. Late May and early June are the best times for flower viewing. Hydrangeas bloom everywhere, along with some other summer florals. Kamakura’s Meigetsuin Temple is famous for its blue hydrangea garden.
Be prepared with umbrellas, though. The start of summer in Japan is also the start of the rainy season (tsuyu, 梅雨). You might even get a typhoon (taifu, 台風) or two. The rainy season can be a week of non-stop rain and strong winds, usually at the end of June to the start of July. You might want to avoid these dates if you’re not a fan of the rain.

Summer Temperature in Japan

Large crowd at a summer festival at a shrine in Japan.

Image Credit: Julie Fader

The temperature in Japan during the summer can fluctuate. One day it can be a great summer’s day, and the next it can be as unbearable as it can get. Some of my Japanese friends have noted that summer temperature in recent years has been particularly high. We’re advised to take precautions so as to not get heatstroke.

June’s weather is comfortable. You’ll get a cooling 22ºC in the afternoons and it drops to about 18ºC in the evening. Since it’s also approaching the rainy season, you can expect a few rainy days. Pack an umbrella!
It warms up in July after the rainy season. You get 22ºC evenings and warm and humid 28ºC afternoons.

Nothing beats August. It’s the hottest month of the year. 31ºC afternoons are conservative. It can go as hot as 35ºC for a whole week or two. Sunscreen and a bottle of cold water are going to be your best friends.

Summer Humidity in Japan 

Japanese Lanterns

Image Credit: Atul Vinayak

Sure, you can gauge the heat in Japan from the temperature, but it’s the humidity that gets you. You see everyone’s dressing going from chic to casual in a matter of days.

Some say it gets humid in June, but I say it’s already slightly humid in late May. June’s humidity level is at an average of 75%. The previous month’s humidity levels are 60%-65% on average. That’s quite a big jump from spring to summer.
July is looking at 79% humidity. It’s especially humid after the rainy season. August’s humidity level drops to 73% as it gets closer to autumn, but combine that with the hot temperature and you get the hottest month of the year. Don’t avoid August, though. It’s the month of festivities and events. Just pack a few caps and sunglasses.

Now you know. Japanese summer can get not only pretty hot but humid as well. What do you think, will you still be visiting the country during the summer? The Japanese festivities are a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so it’s a lose-some-win-some situation, I might say. Don’t get scared off by the Japanese heat!