There’s no way around it—summer in Japan is no joke. July and August can reach as high as 35° to 40°C (95° to 104°F) in Tokyo, and humidity percentages hang between 50 and 60 percent! Visiting during this time may not seem ideal, but summer in Japan offers unique experiences that will make your trip worthwhile.
Here, are some suggestions for things to do in August during your trip to Japan.
Following the establishment of Tokushima Castle in 1586, the local people celebrated in a drunken revelry. According to popular belief, this event birthed the Awa Odori Dance Festival. Over the past 400 years, the popularity of this festival has slowly spread to other parts of the county. People of all ages and sometimes international dance teams join in the fun.
Although you can see Awa Odori festivals in most cities, not many places can compare to the festivities in Tokushima City from August 12th - 15th. The streets fill with live music, taiko drums, and dancers wearing traditional Japanese clothing and woven amigasa hats. The choreography gradually leads the procession down the street, so sit tight in one place and the parade will eventually come to you!
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There are plenty of prominent summer festivals to choose from in Japan, but August is the only time you can see the Three Great Festivals of Tohoku—so called because of their scale and popularity. The Aomori City Nebuta Festival attracts millions of spectators with its parade of colorful, gigantic lantern floats. Artists make the floats from wire frames, base the designs on folklore and myths, and on the day of the parade light them by placing red lanterns inside. It can take up to a year to build one float!
The parades last from August 2nd - 7th, but each day differs from the next, surprising spectators with new float designs and sizes. The best part about the Nebuta Festival is that anyone can participate in the parade! All you need is the proper attire, which can be purchased for 5,000 JPY (US $50.00) or rented for 3,000 JPY (US $30.00).
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The next Great Festival of Tohoku is the Kanto Matsuri in Akita City. This is a Tanabata festival, which is a holiday based on an old Japanese myth. According to the story, Orihime, who lived in the cosmos with her father, fell so deeply in love with her husband that they both lost interest in doing any work. Enraged, Orihime’s father sent the couple to live on opposite sides of the Milky Way but allowed for the two to meet once a year.
From August 3rd - 6th, Akita celebrates this story. Locals hoist massive bamboo poles that stretch 12 meters (40 feet) into the air and hold as many as 46 brightly illuminated paper lanterns. In addition to celebrating Tanabata, the Kanto Matsuri was historically used to combat the lethargic atmosphere the Tohoku summer heat in causes. Today, the festival creates an energetic atmosphere to encourage people to fight through their sleepiness and to keep working hard!
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The Sendai Tanabata Matsuri is the last of the Three Great Festivals of Tohoku. Similar to the Kanto Matsuri, the Sendai Tanabata Festival celebrates the reunification of Orihime with her husband. However, the celebrations of the two festivals are markedly different.
Traditionally, during a Tanabata Festival, Japanese people make wishes by writing them on strips of paper. The Sendai Tanabata Festival celebrates this act by stringing up hundreds of paper streamers and decorations all over downtown Sendai. The shape of the decorations determines their purpose. For example, kimono-shaped decorations ward off evil spirits, nets pray for good harvest, and trash cans represent cleanliness. The festivities last from August 6th - 8th.
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Sadly, Hiroshima City is primarily known for its tragic history. All year round, you can gain a better understanding of the effects of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima Peace Park, located in the center of the city. In the park, you can see the UNESCO-recognized Hiroshima Genbaku Dome, the only structure that survived the explosion, and the Children’s Memorial, which is dedicated to Sadako Sasaki and other Japanese children who died from radiation poisoning years after the atomic bomb was dropped.
Every year on August 6th, Hiroshima City holds a vigil for the victims and to pray for world peace. During the day, officials of Japan lead a solemn ceremony which includes a flower dedication, a silent prayer, and a release of doves. At night, thousands of people send lanterns floating down the river to symbolize the journey to the afterlife. Although the event is a heavy affair, the ceremonies serve as a powerful reminder to keep history from repeating itself.
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Whether you prefer to spend your summer taking it slow in the countryside or reveling in festivals in the cities, Japan has something for everyone during this season! If you plan to stay in Japan from August to September…