Booking a trip to Japan takes a lot of thought. We have to determine the whens, the wheres, the whats, and how flexible our schedules are. Some seasons are better than others depending on your interests or what kind of weather you prefer. For many though, like my parents, the only chance they can come is summer.
Most Japanese people go back to their parents’ homes for family reunions during Obon. The dates of Obon differ between prefectures, but for Tokyo, Obon Festival happens in mid-July. Tourists can enjoy the Obon season as street festivals pop up in parks and streets. The main attraction of these festivals is the bon odori (Bon Dance).
These dances are performed in honor of ancestral spirits. Each region has their own specific variations and music, but typically dancers circle around a tower called a yagura from which a live band performs traditional music to the beats of taiko drums. Feel free to join in the dance once you have the moves down! If you aren’t traveling during this three-day celebration, don’t worry! There are plenty of other festivals to enjoy in the summertime.
Tokyo has some of the best festivals in all of Japan. Despite the climate, the locals sprightly stroll through booths to try dishes from different parts of the country, play carnival games, and enjoy haunted houses. A great festival to enjoy during the annual heatwave is the Fukagawa Hachiman Festival. Teams carry extremely heavy palanquins designed to house Shinto gods through the streets as spectators spray water on them. Even the fire department joins in on the fun!
For a dance festival, you can’t miss Harajuku's Omotesando Genki Matsuri Super Yosakoi festival. Several hundred teams ranging in member size dress in traditional clothes and dance in a style that originated in Shikoku. Or check out the Sanno Matsuri in even-numbered years (2020), or the Kanno Matsuri in odd-numbered years (2021). If you feel like big crowds on a hot day aren’t for you, then check out some of the….
If you ever have the chance to see a fireworks festival in Japan, don’t miss out. Japan hosts some of the largest and most beautiful displays. Summer is, naturally, a big season for fireworks and Tokyo boasts three particularly popular festivals.
The Tokyo Bay festival in Odaiba sets fireworks against the Tokyo skyline. The Jingu Gaien Fireworks Festival at Jingu Stadium includes a musical performance before the main show. The Setagaya-Ku Tamagawa Hanabi is particularly fun as it takes place over a river that borders Tokyo and Kawasaki, and both cities compete to have a bigger display than the other.
Fireworks festivals are also the perfect time to try out wearing a yukata (traditional summer robes) and really feel in step with Japanese society. Festivals, in general, are a great time to try foods from all over Japan, especially the summer specialties.
Nothing cools you down faster than snacking on a watermelon! Japanese fruit farmers carefully grow their crops for optimal juice and flavor. For a cooler treat, try kakigori—Japanese shaved ice. This isn’t your corner store snow cone. The ice comes in light and fluffy easy to slurp flakes. No neon sugar-water topping here either! Cooks use real fruit to make a creamy syrup topper.
For your lunch or dinner, I recommend unagi bento—rice topped with marinated eel. They say eel gives you the much-needed stamina and power to get you through the long summer days and into those breezy summer nights. I admit though, there are some not so great points about summer in Tokyo. Let’s go over some of the cons!
Let’s get the number one complaint about summer in Tokyo out of the way. It’s hot, it’s humid, and it’s no joke. “Concrete Jungle” takes on a whole new meaning here in the summer. July and August can reach as high as 35° and 40°C (95° and 104°F) respectively. Humidity percentages hang between 50 and 60 percent! If you’re traveling to Tokyo in summer, pack your lightest clothes and an umbrella because of….
June through July is the rainy season (tsuyu) for most of Japan. In Tokyo, it rains for a combined 40 days, and the rainfall measures 181mm in June and 128mm in July. That’s a lot of water! Make sure you buy a sturdy umbrella or opt for a good poncho. You might think in all this heat and rain everyone would stay inside, but that's simply not true!
Summertime is peak season for Japanese people to travel. Students are out of school, families travel together, and some businesses take their employees on vacations during this time. In general, Tokyo is crowded with tourists and commuters, but during summer the population swells in particular. It’s no surprise then that….
Summer isn’t the best time to get a good deal on airfare. Many Japanese people take international vacations and airlines take advantage of this. More international and domestic travelers mean not just higher prices for getting around, but also higher hotel rates. If you book with us, we’ll do our best to get you the fairest prices!
A summer vacation in Tokyo may not seem ideal to everyone, but you can see different sides of Japanese culture that you would miss in any other season!