Pack your lightest clothes and get your hand-fans ready, because things start heating up in Japan in July—literally. The end of the rainy season means the summer heat starts settling in. You might think the heat would keep everyone at home, but nothing could be further from the truth! July is the perfect time to catch street festivals, fireworks displays, and indulge in summer treats.
If you’re looking for things to do in Japan in July, read on for our top suggestions!
Hokkaido is known for its long winters and heavy snowfall, but the summers offer relief from the snow and the sun! Average temperatures reach a comfortable 22°C (72°F) with little humidity. People enjoy picnics in the park, German-style beer gardens, and festivals in the city. The countryside comes to life with lush fields, green forests, and vibrant flower displays. The most famous flower display in Hokkaido is the lavender fields in Furano.
Several types of lavender reach their peak bloom around July, creating a rainbow of color that will make you feel like you’re walking in an impressionist painting. Several shops line the way to the lavender farms, selling Furano specialties such as cantaloupe, fresh corn, and lavender ice cream. If the dreamy aroma that wafts on the breeze makes you feel a little sleepy, you can board the Lavender Bus to ride through scenic locations like Farm Tomita, Lavender East, and Flower Land Kamifurano. Flower Land Kamifurano also offers a crafts class where you can make a lavender pillow to take home.
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Just north of Furano, the small town of Biei holds a similar festival in July. Biei is famous for skiing and snowboarding amongst locals during winter, and in summer, its gentle hills become a quilt of color. Several types of flowers, crop fields, and “celebrity trees” grow in Biei’s famous viewing spots: Patchwork Road and Panorama Road.
Despite their names, Patchwork Road and Panorama Road refer to areas rather than streets. Patchwork Road is named for the varied patches of crops that stretch for miles. In this area, you can see Biei’s famous trees that have been featured in popular commercials, including a row of large timber on Mild Seven Hill, a poplar named Ken and Mary Tree, and a group of oaks dubbed the Parents and Children Trees. In Panorama Road, you can visit two flower parks—Shikisai Hill and Kanno Farm—to see many blooms, including lavender. Both make for idyllic places for cycling, but you can also rent golf carts or take a ride on a tractor-pulled wagon if you find the hilly area too challenging.
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When you step into Kyoto, Japanese history comes to life before your very eyes. Unlike other areas of Japan, Kyoto was spared from the WWII bombings and air raids and many of its World Heritage Sites have survived the centuries since their founding. In Kyoto, not only can you see plenty of Japanese people hitting the street in kimono, but some of Kyoto’s locals still live in machiya—traditional Japanese wooden townhouses.
In July, you can participate in one of Kyoto’s most grand and storied traditions: the Gion Summer Festival. The festival lasts for the entire month, but the main event (Yamaboko Junko) happens on July 17th, when a grand procession of floats makes its way through the streets. The floats can reach 25 meters (82 feet) high and weigh up to 12 tons! Note that despite its name, the Gion Festival doesn’t take place in Kyoto’s famous Geisha district, but across the river from it.
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In Japanese legend, Orihime was a hardworking weaver who lived in the cosmos with her father. When she married her husband Hikoboshi, they fell so deeply in love they grew lazy and useless. Orihime’s father became enraged and sent them to live on opposite sides of the Milky Way, but allows the lovers to reunite on the “seventh day of the seventh month” every year. The Japanese call this day “Tanabata,” and cities all over the country hold festivals in July.
The majority of these festivals start on July 7th, but some cities go by the lunar calendar to determine the date. During a Tanabata festival, attendees don kimono, play festival games, and eat street food like at most festivals in Japan, but with a twist. Since Orihime and Hikoboshi’s desires to see each other get fulfilled on this day, Japanese people also make wishes during the festival. They write their hopes on small pieces of paper, hang them from a bamboo tree, then either burn or throw the paper into a river when the festival ends.
If you’re in Tokyo at the end of July, don’t miss out on Japan’s oldest fireworks festival. The Sumida River Fireworks festival dates back to the 18th century when it was held in remembrance for victims of the Kyōhō famine. Now, it’s the largest fireworks show in Japan, and close to a million people attend the annual event. Anchored barges on the water launch 22,000 rockets between the Ryogoku and Asakusa neighborhoods, creating a poignant, unforgettable spectacle.
Unfortunately, Tokyo’s skyscrapers make it difficult to see the colorful explosions, so finding the right spot takes a bit of strategy. The best views are from the parks along the river and Tokyo SkyTree, but they get crowded quickly as people reserve their places with tarps hours before the event. A favorite area to see the fireworks is near Sensoji Temple which holds a street festival. Also, nearby restaurants provide outdoor seating where you can enjoy a meal with the sights.
Despite—or maybe because of—the heat, a certain kind of excitement hangs in the air in Japan. If you’ll continue your stay from July to August….