Being an ALT has some pretty great advantages. A major one being that I get a six week vacation every year during summer. If you are lucky enough to have a job that still pays you during this time, then its even better. The free time allows you to explore and experience many of the things and places this country has to offer. In this article, I want to outline a few things you can expect from a typical Japanese summer.
Fireworks and Festivals
First and foremost is probably the most iconic of images a Japanese person has about summer time, Fireworks by the seaside or river and wearing beautiful yukata to one of the many festivals that occur during this season.
The fireworks displays in Japan are a thing of wonder and amazement. They really don't hold back. While I know there are larger and more amazing displays throughout the country, the largest one I have ever seen was in Hiroshima. The scale of the display and the elaborate colors and patterns put every 4th of July Fireworks festival I had ever seen in America to shame. Fireworks displays in general are a regular occurrence during the summer and a definite must see.
Those fireworks I saw in Hiroshima were part of the Fireworks festival. Often, during the summer you will find a fireworks display to close out a festival. Every festival is different and for a different purpose. The most well known summer festival is the Obon festival. Food stalls and merchants will line the streets as crowds gather in the area. At some festivals there will be music, dancing, the sound of taiko drums, displays of calligraphy being done in enormous size, and sometimes a parade or event at or in conjunction with a shrine.
One common sight at both fireworks displays and festivals will be the sight of people dressed in yukata. Yukata are simpler and much lighter than kimono. The are a great way to stay cool and comfortable too. Especially when its so hot and humid.
Beaches, Hiking and Camping
As with summers in America, Japanese people will often take to the beaches, go for a hike up a mountain, or even find themselves on a family camping trip. These are really great ways to experience a different side of Japan. There are even a few cultural aspects that make these experiences a bit more uniquely Japanese.
Japanese beaches are absolutely gorgeous. I especially love the sights from the beaches of the Seto Inland Sea. It is almost surreal to look out and see so many islands, some of which seem to be left untouched except by the local wildlife. Sure there are less amazing public beaches for going swimming, but I have never been the type of person who enjoys swimming in the sea too much. That doesn't mean I don't enjoy a day at the beach though, and in Japan it can be a lot of fun to join in the fun. Maybe a bit stereotypical, but busting open a watermelon while blindfolded or enjoying a good serving of flavored shaved ice (kakigori) can be very enjoyable.
Hiking and camping are some other great summer activities, especially with the slightly cooler temperatures up the mountains. There are many camp sights across Japan. You can pitch a tent, rent a cabin or try the new glamping craze evidently. Its a great way to relax with friends or family, have a drinking party and break out the barbecue. Some will forgo the overnight aspects of camping to just have a gathering for a cook out and some drinks. Whatever the case, the right location can make all the difference. One of the things that can really give you a sense of being in a foreign country is the change in sights and scenery as you climb up the mountain. Whether its overlooking the islands of the Seto Inland Sea, finding the best view of Mount Fuji or climbing Fuji-san itself, the views are spectacular. And with such a long history, coming across the occasional temple or shrine adds to the beauty of the area.
Weather and Wind Chimes
Depending on where you are from, probably the most noticeable part of Japanese summers is the weather. Hot and humid. Really hot and humid. The kind of hot and humid where you cant tell if thats sweat covering your body or the result of swimming through the air. Maybe you are used to heat, but not humidity. Even if you grew up where its ridiculously hot and humid, admit it, it's still uncomfortable. But that is why you will find many events in the evening and at night. Japan also implores many methods to help stay just a bit cooler. Right down to the practice of dousing the area around your home with water to help lower the temperature.
Another thing you will see almost everywhere you go are a type of glass wind chime. The sound of the ringing caused by a gentle breeze is synonymous with summer in Japan. It can be very relaxing and almost gives a sense of comfort that conflicts with the misery of the hot and humid weather.
If you find yourself in Japan during the summer with a little free time, don't let the weather hold you back. There are countless things to do and experience. Whether you decide to try something from this post or do like I did last summer and go to Universal Studios Japan, summer may be one of the best times to travel Japan. At least this is the case if you are an ALT like me with a six week vacation and a love of exploring Japan and its culture.
Please leave a comment below and let us know how you spend your summers in Japan. How do you spend your summer? What should someone who just came to Japan do or experience during the summer?