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Summer in Japan
Picture | March 11th, 2020 | Dayna Hannah
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If you’re planning to take a summer vacation in Japan, you’re in for a real treat. During Japan’s summer months, you can find street festivals, seasonal food, and fireworks displays almost everywhere you go! Summertime is also the season for hiking in national parks, relaxing on the beach, and seeing flower displays. Visiting Japan in summer, though, might not seem ideal to everyone.

Japan is notoriously hot during summer. Mid-season temperatures in Tokyo can easily exceed 30°C (86°F), and that’s before you account for the high humidity indexes. But don’t forget that Japan is mountainous, and it supports both subtropical and subarctic climates. Depending on where you go, you can—to a (pun intended) degree—choose what kind of weather suits you best.

Although spring (March to May) and fall (September to November) are peak travel seasons thanks to the cherry blossoms and autumn leaves, summer in Japan has unique events and experiences that you’ll miss at other times of the year. Here, we’ve broken down the best places to visit in Japan during the summer, what to do, and tips for staying cool.

WHEN IS SUMMER IN JAPAN?

Summer in Japan starts in June and ends in August. However, some parts of the country warm up as early as April and don’t cool off until at least September. Meanwhile, others stay chilly through June! What kind of weather you can expect will depend on your exact destinations, but let’s assume it’s your first time in Japan, and you’ll make stops in and around Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka.

In most of the country, June to mid-July means one thing—rain and lots of it. Okinawa usually gets the most precipitation a month earlier than the rest of Japan, and Hokkaido and the Ogasawara Islands generally don’t get affected by tsuyu (the rainy season). However, the rainy season doesn’t mean you’ll be going through torrential monsoons for several days in a row.

Although June can get substantially wet, Japan’s rainy season is comparably mild to the rest of Asia. If you run into inclement weather, you’re more likely to experience sudden downpours that end as quickly as they start or all-day misty drizzles.

At first, June might not seem like a desirable time to go, but it does pose a few advantages. During this time, domestic and international travel to Japan declines, which means you can save on airfare and hotel rates, and popular outdoor sightseeing destinations tend to be less crowded. There are also quite a few sights that become even more attractive in the rain.

The extra precipitation makes wooded areas like Hakone and Koyasan lush and colorful. Shrines and temples also seem to take on a more spiritual atmosphere when they’re shrouded in mist. Also, if you love relaxing in natural hot springs, there’s nothing like lying back in piping hot onsen water as the pitter-patter of raindrops hits the roof.

By mid-July and August, the sky clears up, and the temperature rises. You might think the heat would keep everyone indoors, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Summer in Japan is a time for celebrations and having fun in the sun.

WHAT TO WEAR IN JAPAN IN SUMMER

After reading about the rainy season in Japan, you might feel tempted to pack ponchos, rain jackets, and galoshes, but trust us when we say you’ll regret bringing them. Those kinds of bulky items are more likely to weigh you down, and there are far more practical options that you can bring.

You’ll want heavy-duty rain gear if you plan on camping, going on long-distance hikes, or spending the majority of your time doing extreme outdoor activities. But a small folding umbrella and waterproof shoes will serve you much better if you’re following a group tour, sticking to urban areas, or visiting the countryside for just a few days.

Remember, Japan’s summer weather is hot and humid, even during the rainy season. Rain jackets and galoshes will make you sweat and feel uncomfortable. And if you pull out a poncho during a downpour, it’ll probably be over by the time you figure out which holes are for your arms and head.

If you get caught in torrential rain, it’s much easier to duck into your nearest department or convenience store to wait out the worst of it. And on a drizzly day, a pair of good shoes and a small umbrella is enough to keep you dry.

Speaking of staying cool, if you’re coming to Japan in late summer, carefully consider which clothes you’ll bring. Try to stick to light textiles like cotton and loose-fitting cuts. What makes us say that? It’s what Japanese people do!

You probably know that before Western wear came into fashion, people in Japan wore kimonos. During summer, they would put on a particular type of kimono called a yukata made from breezy cotton. In modern times, most people don’t wear yukatas unless they’re attending a special event like a festival. But if you mistake how many outfits you’ll need, you won’t be out of place if you rent a yukata for the day.

HOW TO STAY COOL IN JAPAN IN SUMMER

Besides packing the right clothes and drinking plenty of water, there are a few extra tricks you can try to keep cool on your trip to Japan. Even Japanese people need relief from the heat, and cosmetic companies release products designed to beat it.

Gatsby and Bioré have a line of wet wipes with a small amount of deodorant that will leave you feeling refreshed. You can also pick up bottles of cooling mentholated spray from manufacturers like Sea Breeze. Convenience stores, supermarkets, 100 yen shops, and pharmacies often carry these items.

It’s also not unusual for Japanese people to carry handkerchiefs to mop up sweat. In all fairness, you’ll want to buy or bring a rag no matter what season it is on the occasion that you use a public bathroom that doesn’t have any paper towels. Another tool you can use for multiple functions is your folding umbrella. Many Japanese people, especially women, use a parasol for shade.

Keeping your backpack light and only carrying the right essentials will help while you bounce around between cities and cross off destinations on your bucket list.

PLACES TO VISIT IN JAPAN DURING SUMMER

From rural areas with astounding nature to cities with joyous festivals, here are the places we recommend adding to your summer itinerary!

Mount Fuji

No matter what your reason for visiting Japan is, Mount Fuji deserves your attention! There are five stations that you can drive to, but the higher up ones close when the weather isn’t so great. In sunny July and August, you’ll have the best chance to be able to get to the highest stations, which are around 2300 meters above sea level.

If you’re an adventurous traveler, Fuji’s hiking trails open from July to September. Many climbers start at the Subaru Fifth Station and walk up the Yoshida path. It takes the average person around five to seven hours to reach the peak. The ascent doesn’t require any high-level mountaineering skills, but it is strenuous because the air gets noticeably thin.

Climbing on Mount Fuji takes preparation and an application form. You’ll need to prove that you have all of the proper equipment before you can obtain permission to go. You’ll also want to bring layers because the weather gets cold and windy, even in summer.

Some people choose to split the summit over two days and reserve a spot in a mountain hut. Others challenge themselves by doing it in one trip. No matter which way you decide to climb Mount Fuji, we recommend timing yourself so that you can arrive at the peak in time to watch the sunrise.

Those who aren’t interested in climbing Mount Fuji can still find plenty of things to do at the fifth station. The commanding view of the Fuji Five Lakes area makes the trip worth it. You can also stop by the Komitake Shrine, shop for souvenirs, or send a postcard home. Off-season and day-trip hikers can also access the Ochudo Trail, which leads around rather than up the mountain.

Kyoto

Kyoto is a gorgeous city to visit in any season (especially autumn), and it never ceases to amaze even the most veteran travelers. In July, you can witness one of the city’s most grand and storied traditions—the Gion Matsuri.

Festivities for the Gion Matsuri take place throughout the entire month of July, but the main event is on the 17th. On this day, teams of locals pull towering wooden floats through the streets of central Kyoto. Impressively, the floats can weigh up to twelve tons and reach heights of up to twenty-five meters. The parade lasts from the morning to the afternoon.

If you can’t make it on the 17th, you can attend a similar, albeit smaller, procession on the 24th. From the 10th to the 14th and the 18th to the 21st, you can watch artisans skillfully assembling the floats without using any nails. Festival food and drink vendors also open on the evenings leading up to both parades.

Hokkaido

Hokkaido is famous for its winter scenery, excellent ski resorts, and snow festivals, but don’t count out Japan’s northernmost island in summer. Being in the subarctic, you’ll notice a steep difference in the temperature. It can get hot and humid in mid-August, but it’s still comparably milder than what you’ll experience in other cities in Japan.

Summer is one of the few times of the year when you can easily access Hokkaido’s untamed wilderness. Places like the Shiretoko Peninsula, Sounkyo Gorge, and the Kushiro Marshlands are some of the most beautiful places in the world. They all offer activities for outdoorsy types, as well as facilities for those who would prefer to explore by way of sightseeing cruises, hot air balloon rides, and observatories.

In Sapporo, you can also enjoy the beer gardens that pop up around the city. The biggest one takes place in Odori Park from mid-July to mid-August. It’s a great opportunity to sip on seasonal releases of Sapporo Beer and traditional Hokkaido food like barbecue mutton, giant scallops, and venison.

Midsummer is also when the lavender fields in Furano and Biei reach their peak bloom. Places like Farm Tomita and Shikisai Hill grow several types of lavenders and other multi-colored flowers that create unforgettable panoramas.

Sendai

Cities across the country observe the Tanabata festival in summer. The origins of this tradition come from a Chinese legend that later became part of Japanese culture. According to the story, the Milky Way separates two deities named Orihime and Hikoboshi, who are lovers that can only meet on the seventh day of the seventh month. Tanabata celebrates their annual reunion.

Some places hold Tanabata on July 7th. Sendai City, and many others, follow the lunisolar calendar. At these festivals, attendees write their hopes and dreams on strips of paper that hang on bamboo poles. Sendai takes it a step further by stringing up thousands of colorful streamers and paper ornaments in the downtown area’s shopping arcades.

Local schools and businesses create each decoration by hand, and they have different meanings depending on their shapes. Kimonos ward off poor health, trash bags are for cleanliness, and cranes are for health and long life. Other events during this time include music, dance, and stage performances, as well as a fireworks display.

The Sendai Tanabata Matsuri takes place from August 6th to the 8th. Along with Aomori City’s Nebuta Matsuri and Akita’s Kanto Matsuri, it is one of the Three Great Festivals of the Tohoku region.

Aomori

Nebuta Matsuris are a kind of Tanabata festival specific to Aomori Prefecture. The largest of these takes place in the capital, Aomori City, from August 2nd to the 7th. Every night, except for the 7th, there are parades of floats made from Japanese paper and lanterns.

Local artisans spend a year designing and building two dozen floats. They often resemble historical or mythical figures from Chinese or Japanese culture. During the parades, teams push the floats through the streets with musical accompaniment and dancers following each one.

The first two nights of the festival are a bit smaller, with fewer attendees and floats making an appearance. By the 4th, the celebration is in full swing, and audience participation is highly encouraged. If you want to join the procession as a dancer, all you need is a haneto costume that you can buy or rent from shops around town, including supermarkets and convenience stores.

There isn’t a nighttime procession on the 7th, but in the afternoon, the floats get put on display in Rassera Land on the waterfront, and you can see them up close. The artisans also stand near their work so you can ask them any questions you might have. There are also live performances and a two-hour fireworks display that closes out the festivities.

Akita

The third of the Great Festivals of Tohoku is the Kanto Matsuri in Akita City that runs from August 3rd to the 6th. In this case, “kanto” doesn’t refer to the region in Japan, but to bamboo poles, which are the highlight of this event.

During the Kanto Matsuri, performers show off their skills by balancing the kanto poles on different parts of their bodies, including their shoulders, heads, hands, and hips. What makes this feat so astonishing? They’re twelve meters high, weigh fifty kilograms, and have forty-six lit paper lanterns!

The most exciting parts of the festival are the Night Parades that take place every evening in the center of town. Upon a signal, all of the kanto teams lift their poles at the same time and start their acts, which last around ninety minutes. If you want to try your hand at balancing one of these poles, check out the Kanto Museum.

Tokushima

Tokushima is a small castle town in Shizuoka Prefecture. Its claim to fame is the lively Awa Odori Matsuri that happens every year from August 12th to the 15th. As the story goes, the festival began in 1586 when Hachisuka Iemasa established Tokushima Castle. The citizens celebrated in with a little too much sake, and they invented a dance that mimics a drunkard's weaving and stumbling.

Today, the Awa Odori Matsuri is the largest dance festival in Japan, and it attracts around 1.3 million spectators and participants every year. The festivities have become so popular that copies of the Awa Odori Matsuri have popped up around Japan, but you can’t beat witnessing it in its originating city!

Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

Even if you go to Japan in the middle of summer, you still have an opportunity to see snow. May and June are the best months to see the “snow corridor” on the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. This road connects Toyama City and Omachi Town through the Japan Alps.

Boarding a private coach or several modes of transportation, you can take in the majestic views of the Tateyama Mountain Range in Chubu Sangaku National Park. In winter, the snowfall makes the stretch between Midagahara and Murodo inaccessible. From April to June, road workers cut out a section for pedestrians to walk through. The accumulated snowdrifts reach up to around twenty meters high on either side of the street.

WHAT TO DO IN JAPAN IN SUMMER

To make the most of your summer vacation in Japan, try some of these activities!

Best Beaches in Japan

The official swimming season begins when Shinto priests across the country hold a ceremony called Umi Bikari, which blesses the water and makes it safe to swim. Most beaches near Tokyo hold these events in early July, but they can happen as early as March in Okinawa and as late as August in Hokkaido. That’s not to say you can’t hit the beach before Umi Bikari, but you won’t see as many Japanese people.

As an island nation, you can find white sandy beaches and sparkling oceans all over Japan. The tropical Okinawa archipelago and Ogasawara Island attracts visitors from around the world, but you don’t necessarily have to travel that far away from central Japan for swimming and surfing. Enoshima Island has some of the best beaches near Tokyo, and if you go to the Kansai region, you can get away from it all on Shirahama Beach.

Japan’s Theme Parks

Nothing is more quintessential of the summer season than a theme park. Whether you love thrill rides or are traveling with young children, it can be a welcome break from historical landmarks. The two most popular theme parks in Japan are Tokyo Disneyland and Osaka's Universal Studios Japan.

If those options are a little too “Western” for you, check out Fuji-Q Highland in the Fuji Five Lakes area. While you ride the record-breaking roller coasters, you’ll get gorgeous views of Japan’s iconic mountain from upside down! Japanese animation fans will also enjoy the Naruto and Boruto-themed Hidden Leaf Village attractions.

Japan’s Music Festivals

If you’re a fan of J-pop, J-rock, or idol music, a festival could be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see your favorite bands live. Both Japanese and international artists perform at these kinds of events throughout the year. Music festivals in Japan aren’t just for having fun. They’re also opportunities to raise awareness about issues like climate change, cleaning up oceans, and protecting endangered animals.

The most internationally famous festival is Fuji Rock at Naeba Ski Resort in Niigata Prefecture. If you want to stick closer to the city, Summer Sonic takes place in both Tokyo and Osaka. Fuji Rock and Summer Sonic are Japan’s “Big Two” music festivals with headliners like Radiohead, B’z, and the Chemical Brothers performing in recent years.

Japanese Summer Food

One of the best experiences you can have in Japan is trying all of the delectable food. Particularly at summer festivals, you’ll get the chance to try treats like kakigori (shaved ice), grilled squid, and matcha ice cream. August 1st is also an unofficial Japanese holiday called the Day of the Ox, and everyone eats eel to build up their stamina to ward off exhaustion from the heat.


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