This year’s rainy season seemed to go on and on, but is finally over (fingers crossed!). Suddenly the rain stopped and the signs of summer are all around. Japan is a wonderful country with 4 distinct seasons, each with it’s own signs. Hello! I’m Edward, owner and head coach at Smith’s English Conversation School in Otsu city. Allow me to take you on a tour of the sounds, sights and smells of Japanese summer.
The rainy season is the start of summer, usually starting around the end of May and running through most of June and into August. The first sound for me that signals summer is the sound of heavy rain, rushing rivers and the sight of a sea of umbrellas as everyone heads to work or school in the morning. Summer rain has a certain smell, different from the other seasons, and is somehow refreshing as it is a precursor to the true heat of summer, which is coming soon!
As soon as rainy season ends, we start to feel the heat rising, as well as the humidity. Now the classic sound of summer appears: the sound of cicadas humming. Having grown up on the west coast of Canada, I had never heard a cicada before and didn’t understand the power it has in people who have grown up with it. For people who grew up with cicadas, their sound is truly a sign of the time- not just the fact that summer has arrived, but also the time of summer. The cicada’s song changes throughout the summer, thus those who know can tell us whether summer is just beginning, in the middle, or nearing the end. The cicada is a living calendar, and a better weather forecaster than any news anchor.
What does summer smell like in Japan? For me, Japanese summer is the smell of everyone enjoying barbecues on their verandah or in the many parks around town. Japanese summer is the smell of fresh-cut watermelon, and it’s sound is the sound of children’s cheers of joy as they smash the watermelon open with a stick, while blind-folded! The smells of the beach, as everyone enjoys cooling off in whatever waterway is nearby- ocean, lake and river all being in abundance.
What else defines Japanese summer for me? Fireworks events, summer festivals, everyone in yukata (light, summer kimono), kids with sparklers, parents playing with kids in the park. Everyone having a good time! Dancing “bon” dance in yukata, eating street vendor foods at evening markets and community events: meat on a stick, chilled cucumbers on a stick, shaved ice topped with coloured syrups, candy apples, kids scopping goldfish at the local festival (which they can then take home!), and of course… ice cream! Matcha flavoured ice cream, red bean flavoured ice cream, and of course the classics: chocolate, strawberry and vanilla!
Another sign of summer is the arrival of the summer gift giving season. Every year, people send gifts to those they wish to thank. There is no happier sound than the doorbell ringing and the delivery person calling out. We open the door to receive a beautifully wrapped summer gift from some kind friend, colleague or client. These gifts range from fresh fruits to cold cuts of meat to cold noodle lunch sets, and always seem to look summery somehow- cool tastes, refreshing snacks and summer themed packaging.
Summer is finally here, and I am looking forward to hitting the beach, enjoying some barbecue and fresh summer fruit. What sights, smells and sounds do you most associate with summer in Japan, or in your country? Leave us a comment below! Thanks for reading, and enjoy your summer!