Summer in Japan: Special Celebrations and Surviving the Soaring Temps

What is Summer Like in Japan?

It’s the middle of August and boy has it gotten toasty! Every time I step outside, a blanket of warmth envelops me as if I were entering a sauna.

Flower Field in Furano, Hokkaido

(Sometimes this feeling takes me completely by surprise, especially if I’ve spent all day indoors) ?. Hello 90% humidity!

The days of freezing my a** off after showering in chilly December and January seem like distant memories from another life.

**Was it really that cold just a few months back?**

It is difficult to recall the snowy landscape and record chill that hit Fukuoka earlier this year now that the weather has changed so completely…

Winter in Fukuoka
Back when there was snow!

While the heat has been uncomfortable at times, I still prefer it to the cold. As a California gal, a day I can leave my apartment without a jacket or umbrella is a wonderful day in my book.

Speaking of umbrellas, it’s weird how much it rains during Japan’s summer. Typhoons and rain fronts are common which means there can be multiple days of warm, wet, overcast weather. It’s kind of nice that these rains cut the heat and stickiness, but even so, I’m used to dry, rainless summers.

(*Update: we just had two straight weeks of cloud and rain. I MUCH prefer the sunshine even if it comes with heat).

Throughout the recent months, I’ve noticed many interesting trends and seasonal changes take place. From special foods, to handy gadgets and pesky bugs, read on to learn all about living in Japan during the summer!

Table of Contents

Clothing: Keeping Covered

Aside from the weather, another big difference between Japan and California is the summer clothing style. (I’ll be making some broad generalizations here about larger trends I have observed).

Gloves, Face Shields, and Sun Parasols

When the sun shines in California, women often rock light and flowy dresses, shorts, skirts, tank tops, and blouses.

In Japan, even with the higher temps and sweaty humidity, clothes are much longer in length and for the most part, shoulders and knees stay covered.

When I spot a woman in short sleeves, she often has long, dark, gloves covering the rest of her arms and hands. UV protection is a big thing here, so great measures are taken to block out the sun’s rays.

Dark Sun Face Shield
Sun Shield

Dark sun shields, the above mentioned gloves, and parasols are all items commonly deployed to protect from the sun.

Sun Parasol
Blocking the sun with a parasol

One time I was walking home from school, sweating in my shorts and t-shirt, when across the street I saw a lady wearing a completely black, skin covering outfit: full-length pants and a hoodie jacket- with the hood up! I was shocked and wondered how she could survive underneath it all.

Built-in Jacket Fans

Another interesting piece of apparel I have come across are jackets worn by construction workers. They have special fans built in to provide air circulation for the wearer.

Hard to see, but this worker is wearing a jacket with fans inside!

The breezy jackets make the workers look poofy, but I’m sure the extra coolness is a lifesaver.

Face Masks

As if the standard heat wasn’t enough, the past two years have been extra sizzling because of the ongoing pandemic and need for full-time mask wearing.

As you can probably guess, the everyday temperatures coupled with masks means it gets hot, sweaty, and uncomfortable.

Japanese face mask

Sunglasses

One last wardrobe note: very few people here wear sunglasses! (Much to my surprise since I feel like glasses help so much on sunny days).

Nevertheless, since shades aren’t a popular accessory, whenever I don a pair, I quickly become the noticeable gaijin, (foreigner).

Mask ?? Sunglasses ??

Accessories: Staying Cool

Now you know that many people wear more clothes than less to protect from themselves from sun. So how do people stay cool?

Portable Fans

Though there are several heat battling products on the market, these are the most trendy: portable hand fans!

Portable Hand Fan
Portable hand fans for sale

These small, rechargeable, handheld fans are sold all over Japan and come pretty cheap. At Daiso, you can pick one up for ¥550 (~$5), but larger ones in other stores are closer to ¥1550.

When I first saw these fans at the start of summer, I thought they looked clunky and wondered who would use them. Fast forward a few weeks later, where everyone I passed on the street was sporting their own personal fan.

Japanese Electric Hand Fan

Also, it is not just females who use these. Both genders can be seen carrying around this tiny gadget, though it is a younger demographic (teens-30’s) that seem to make up the biggest user base.

I haven’t purchased a fan for myself yet, but maybe now I should give it a try?

Small Towels

Most people also carry hand/ face towels with them. These small pieces of cloth come in handy whenever you need to wipe something up….like your face!

Sunscreen: Liquidy and Expensive

As the days grew hotter, I realized it was time to invest in sunscreen. I thought, how difficult can buying sunscreen be?

…standing in the drugstore aisle, I was overwhelmed. Sunscreen milk? Sun Essence? Skin Whitening? Why was it all so expensive?

Very quickly, I learned that sunscreen is another thing that is quite different in Japan.

Japanese Sunscreen Light Up Essence
Light Up Essence sunscreen… whatever that means

The consistency is much more watery, the bottles are tiny, and a small amount of 50g (2oz) can cost over ¥1500!

Japanese Sunscreen
Tone Up UV Milk Sunscreen

Additionally, there are many confusing types of sunscreen to navigate through: Sunscreen Milk, Water Gels, Light Up Essence, Tone Up Sticks….

Sunscreen Water Gel
Water Gel Sunscreen

Off the topic of sunscreen, but relevant to reducing sun exposure, is an interesting behavior I noticed.

When waiting for a crosswalk signal to change, people often stand in the shadow of street posts or nearby buildings for slices of shade. It is normal for people to wait several meters away from the crosswalk if doing so means more suncover.

Standing in the Shade
Lady standing in the shadows, far from the crosswalk, waiting for the light to change

Deodorant: Where are the Sticks?

Just like sunscreen, buying deodorant was not as straightforward as I expected.

I went to the store looking for a good smelling stick of deodorant and came up empty handed.

Unlike stores in the US that have entire aisles dedicated to deodorants and antiperspirants, this is not the case in Japan.

The roll-on Japanese deodorant section is comprised of just a handful of small sealed packages – sadly, no testing the smell before you buy.

Deodorant Aisle

Again the sizes are small and expensive.

Japanese Stick Deodorant

After doing a bit of research about what people here use, I came across a highly rated liquid deodorant called Sea Breeze Deo & Water.

After shaking the bottle, you apply the liquid to your underarms for a cooling sensation. Though it received great reviews on Amazon, I am not a big fan as it is difficult and messy to put on.

With all this in mind, if you’re moving to Japan and are particular about your antiperspirant/ deodorant, make sure to pack extra!

Bugs: Loud, Itchy, Gross

Cicadas (セミ, Semi)

I don’t remember the exact day the cicadas came out, but once they did, it was impossible not to notice. These massive insects sit in the trees and screech incessantly all day. The hotter and more humid the day, the louder they scream.

I’ll admit that the drone of the bugs does give the atmosphere a special summer vibe, but sometimes it would be nice if they just quieted up for a little bit.

Dead cicada (semi)
A massive dead cicada

Hearing cicadas is one thing, seeing them is a whole other story. They. Are. Huge! I saw my first cicada on the street and had the bejesus scared out of me since I almost stepped on it.

Lying on its back, its legs were up and twitching slightly. The bug was bigger than most others I had seen, and seemed to come out of nowhere which was what shocked me most.

Mosquitos (蚊, Ka)

Mosquitos are another summer treat to enjoy. After being semi eaten alive during a trip to Nagoya, I’ve quickly learned to not underestimate this tiny pest.

I am now equipped with mosquito repellent (named Skin Vape), and medication to avoid repeating the itchy and uncomfortable past.

Cockroaches (ゴキブリ, Gokiburi)

I’ve have seen quite a few cockroaches around too, but then again, when aren’t cockroaches invading?

Festivities: Always a Reason to Celebrate

Up to now it maybe seems like summer is the worst time to visit Japan, but that’s not true! If you can outlast the heat and prepare yourself against the bugs, you have a lot to look forward to since summer is the time for many festivals and celebrations.

Fireworks (花火, Hanabi)

Light up the summer evening with fireworks (hanabi)! Small scale fireworks and sparkler packs can be bought at stores like Don Quixote.

Japanese Fireworks at Don Quixote

You can watch large firework displays all throughout Japan as many cities / prefectures put on their own shows.

Some of the most famous displays are the Sumida River Fireworks (Tokyo), Omagari National Fireworks Competition (Akita), and the Nagaoka Fireworks (Niigata).

These have been cancelled for the past two years, but my fingers are crossed to hopefully see them in the future!

Festivals (祭り, Matsuri) and Yukatas

When attending firework displays or other summer festivals (matsuris), people often wear yukatas! Not to be confused with kimonos, yukatas are lighter, more casual, and are intended for festival going rather than larger ceremonies like Coming-of-Age.

Yukata
Wearing a yukata!

You can rent a yukata along with other accessories at many tourist destinations.

The shoes can be a bit difficult to walk in, but dressing in a yukata is a great way to make festival viewing even more special.

Wooden Shoes (Geta) for Yukata
Wooden geta shoes

Wind Chimes

Wind chimes are another unique aspect of summer. The soft tinkling sound is said to evoke the feeling of coolness, so you can see them on display at some temples, city streets, and homes.

In Fukuoka, there is a temple called Nyorinji (nicknamed Frog Temple), that has wind chime decorations on display during the summer.

Visitors can purchase a wind chime, write their fortune on the slip of paper beneath, and add it to the display. It’s beautiful to walk through and the sound is mesmerizing.

Tanabata (Star Festival)

Tanabata (also known as Star Festival), is an event that takes place on July 7th or Aug 7th depending on the region.

This festival celebrates an old story about two lovers who are separated by the Milky Way and only get to reunite one day of the year, on the 7th of July/ August.

In the days leading up to Tanabata, people write wishes on slips of paper and hang them on trees.

Bamboo Tree with Hanging
Hanging fortunes

In Otaru, Hokkaido, I got to see a beautiful Tanabata candle display that represented the Milky Way.

Tanabata Lantern Festival in Otaru, Hokkaido
Tanabata light festival in Otaru, Hokkaido

Drinks: Hydration is Key

Beer

Beer is one of the staples of Japanese dining culture. If you’re out with friends at a Japanese restaurant, it almost feels weird to sit down and not order a glass. (No drinking problems here, I promise).

Beer in Japan
A nice cold beer

The summer heat makes the cold glass and fresh bubbles taste that much better.

Umeshu (梅酒)

Umeshu is a sweet, fruity drink that makes for easy sipping. Poured over ice, it is another one of my favorite summer beverages!

Filled glass container with sugar, plums, and alcohol
Making Umeshu!

You can read more about how to make homemade umeshu here!

Electrolyte Supplements

Since dehydration and heat sickness are common ailments during the summer, you can find special electrolyte supplements at stores and convenis. Here is one that comes in tablet form.

Electrolyte Tablet
Electrolyte tablet

Food: Nice and Cool

While many people still line up outside of ramen shops to slurp down hot soup (I don’t get how they can in the blistering heat), there are several foods that are especially popular (and in my opinion), best enjoyed during the summer months.

Cold Noodles

If hot ramen isn’t your thing, what about cold noodles? Zaru Soba involves dipping chilled buckwheat noodles in a flavored soy sauce.

Dipping green soba noodles

The basic dish can be paired with a side of tempura, or my favorite, roasted duck! While you can get this at many restaurants, it is simple to make at home too!

The next type of cold noodles require a bit of skill. Nagashi Somen or flowing noodles, put your chopstick skills to the test. At restaurants, you sit next to a long bamboo pole that has water flowing through it.

Nagashi Somen
Nagashi flowing somen

Noodles are sent down, and it’s up to you to scoop them up! Like zaru soba, the noodles are cool and are dipped in a flavored soy sauce.

Nagashi Somen isn’t the most filling of foods, but it is a fun activity to do with family and friends.

This contraption makes it so you can enjoy Nagashi Somen in the comfort of your own home. A bit overkill if you ask me, but I heard that kids love it.

Nagashi Somen Contraption
Nagashi Somen at home contraption

In Nagoya, I got to try the region’s special Kishimen. Kishimen noodles are long, flat, and a bit chewy. They were absolutely delicious in this cold salad dish, topped with veggies (okra, bell peppers, lettuce), chicken, an onsen egg, and a flavorful peanut sauce.

Kishimen
Kishimen salad

Hiyashi Chuka (冷やし中華) is a cold ramen dish that uses Chinese-style egg noodles. An assortment of sliced veggies, egg, and ham give these summer noodles brilliant color, and a sweet vinegar sauce adds light and refreshing flavor.

Hiyashi Chuka Cold Ramen
Hiyashi Chuka cold ramen

Kakigori

Kakigori (かき氷) is Japan’s shaved ice dessert. Unlike the cheap crushed ice you get at carnivals in the US, kakigori is made using machines that have super sharp blades that cut blocks of ice into fluffy, light shavings.

(Believe me, this kind of shaved ice is leagues above the “shaved ice” you get elsewhere.)

Japanese Shaved Ice Machine
Japanese shaved ice machine

Once the ice has been shaved, sweet toppings like flavored syrups, sweetened condensed milk, fruit slices, and red bean paste are added on top. This is a treat to not dawdle while eating!

Kakigori Japanese Shaved Ice
Strawberry kakigori

Parfait

Ok, people eat fancy parfaits all the time in coffee shops and cafes. But to me, they are most appealing during the summer! Don’t the colorful layers and fruit toppings scream “Summer!” to you?

Japanese Mont Blanc Parfait
Matcha strawberry mont blanc parfait

Jellies

Jellies get taken to a whole new level in Japan. Not only are they delicious to slurp down after being chilled in the fridge, the amount of artistry that goes into some of the designs and packaging have turned this dessert into expensive and popular summer omiyage (souvenir gifts).

Japanese Summer Jellies
Fruit jellies

This is a jelly sweet filled with red bean paste!

Japanese Summer Wagashi
Summer wagashi filled with red bean paste

BBQ’s

Food is always better with friends, and that is where BBQ’s come in! Backyard grill outs, beach gatherings, and park picnics are a great way to enjoy good weather in the company of others.

Japanese Summer BBQ
Summer BBQ

Many stores take advantage of the BBQ season and sell lots of outdoor related cooking supplies. I saw a few really cool things at Daiso that I was tempted to buy!

If you want to read more about BBQs in Japan, check out this post: Kanagawa BBQ !

Festival Food

During festivals, there are many common snack foods served from stalls like takoyaki (grilled octopus balls), yakisoba (grilled noodles), okonomiyaki (savory grilled pancake), karaage (fried chicken), grilled corn, fresh oysters, and so much more.

Takoyaki at Summer Festival
Takoyaki at summer festival

Make sure to visit festivals so you can to enjoy these snack foods!

Melon Fruits

I have come to accept the sad fact that fruits in Japan are just plain expensive. Peaches can cost over $2 each, and a large watermelon can set you back a good $30 or more.

Japanese Watermelon
Watermelon at the supermarket

Given the high prices, I don’t eat fruits as much as I would like. During hot summer days however, it can be hard to resist.

Recently I was in Hokkaido at the Tomita Melon House. As the name suggest, this place specializes in all things melon.

Honeydew and Cantaloupe Slices
Cantaloupe and honeydew slices

I’m not really a big cantaloupe or honeydew fan, but after tasting them in Hokkaido, I was quite impressed. This cantaloupe smoothie was so sweet and the perfect relief from the heat.

Cantaloupe Smoothie
Sweet and refreshing cantaloupe smoothie

I received this honeydew from my Airbnb host and it was the first time I actually enjoyed eating honeydew.

Sliced Honeydew
Honeydew slice

Kawadoko in Kibune Kyoto

If you find yourself in Kyoto during the summer, try out Kawadoko, eating while sitting above a river!

Kibune Kawadoko Dining
Kawadoko River top dining in Kibune, Kyoto

In the quiet town of Kibune, a handful of restaurants have built raised platforms over/next to the Kibune river. On these you can enjoy a special seasonal meal accompanied by the sound of flowing water.

Kawadoko River Dining

Kawadoko meals are usually a bit fancy and consist of multiple courses of small dishes.

Ice cream / Soft Cream

And of course, ice cream is a must-eat during the summer! Soft cream comes in a bunch of different flavors and colors.

Some recents I have tried are lavender and corn. Eat fast as it melts quickly!

Corn Ice Cream
Corn flavored ice cream!

Final Thoughts

Living in a place with four seasons is definitely interesting and has kept me constantly needing to adapt to a new environment every few months.

I love how there is always something to look forward to (events, food, nature), but the different seasons makes me that much more aware of how quickly time is passing.

Japanese culture embraces each season as it comes, because before long, time has passed and it’s on to the next.

Time to enjoy the last bits of summer!


Curious to learn more about living abroad in Japan? Check out these blog posts for more!

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