Japan has many customs and events that happen as the seasons change. Here are the events happening in July and August that will let you enjoy the Japanese summer even more!
July 7th is Tanabata, also known as the Star Festival. It's an ancient Japanese festival, and it is now celebrated by writing wishes on colorful strips of paper and tied to bamboo sticks as prayers to the stars.
Tanabata has its roots in the celebration of the transition between seasons. It's an event that prays for cleansing oneself of impurities and a fruitful harvest, and the story of Orihime and Hikoboshi was brought over from China. It's said that that story was combined with the Japanese legend of a girl chosen to create a kimono using a machine called a "tanabata" to create the modern legend. The story of Orihime and Hikoboshi is a love story that says on the night of Tanabata, a bridge forms over the Milky Way allowing Vega (Orihime) and Altair (Hikoboshi) to meet. Since these two stars are allowed only to meet on that night it's a lucky period and people write wishes on colored strips of paper and use them as decorations.
*In some regions, Tanabata is celebrated not in July, but in August, in accordance with the lunar calendar.
Sending Summer Greeting Cards
Sending summer greeting cards is a usual custom to inquire after your friends' and acquaintances' health and safety in the hottest part of the year, as well as to let them know about yours.
There are various theories about when they should be sent, but usually they're sent after the rainy season and before August 8th (considered the first day of fall when the solar year is divided into 24). If you're sending them to people overseas, why not send them to match with the height of summer in that country?
Doyo no Ushi no Hi
On Doyo no Ushi no Hi, predicted to be the hottest day of the year, Japanese people eat eel to cope with the heat because eel is said to give you strength. In 2017, the days will be July 25th and August 6th. When there are two days, most people usually just do one.
During this period, all food-related restaurants and shops offer kabayaki, a dish in which eel is dipped in a sweet-spicy sauce and grilled. You can find unadon (kabayaki eel on rice) in convenience stores and supermarkets as well.
"Ochugen" is the custom of giving gifts to your friends and acquaintances to show gratitude in the summer. It's usually given between early and mid-July.
It's standard to give the gift in person, but in recent years delivery services have become popular as well. You can include a greeting card including your feelings of gratitude, or send a postcard or letter separately. Also, if you receive an ochugen gift, etiquette states you should send a thank you note in return.
Marine Day is the 3rd Monday of July (July 17th in 2017). It's a national holiday designated to give gratitude for the blessings of the ocean and to pray for the prosperity of the country.
Since it becomes a three-day weekend, maybe people enjoy traveling and leisure activities. Many events are held throughout the weekend. Hakodate and Nagoya hold their fireworks festivals annually during this time.
"Obon" is the period when ancestors that have passed away return to earth. It's usually between August 13th and 16th, and memorial services such as grave visits in order to usher in the spirits of the dead are held.
During this period, each family creates decorations made out of vegetables like cucumbers and toothpicks called "shoryouma." These vegetables are made to look like horses, and it's said that the custom came about so that ancestors can use them to come and go. There's also "mukaibi" and "okuribi," candles lit in the foyer made to light the way for the ancestors when they're coming and going.
Gozan no Okuribi is held on August 16th, and it's a famous festival in Kyoto held to send off the spirits. Many companies go on break during Obon, so during that period many people return to their hometowns or on trips so it may be very crowded.
*Photo is of Gozan no Okuribi
The Bon-Odori is a dance done to greet and send off the spirits of the ancestors. It's often done at fireworks festivals or other summer festivals, and generally it's performed in a circle around a tower decorated with lanterns. The folk music is performed using instruments like the shamisen (a traditional stringed instrument), taiko drums, and flutes, and people dress in yukata (summer kimono) and dance. There are some places where travelers can join in, so why not check it out if you're interested?
During Gifu's Gujo Odori, the "Tetsuya Odori" which is danced throughout the night is famous. Tokushima's Awa-Odori, which is danced in a line that moves forward like a parade, is a famous Bon-Odori that attracts many visitors.
One of Japan's biggest summer moments is the fireworks that light up the sky. Nationwide between July and August fireworks festivals are held. Often they are held around the same time as other summer festivals, so it becomes very lively around street stalls and are quite crowded.
Some of the most famous festivals are Akita's Zenkoku Hanabi Kyogi Taikai and Niigata's Nagaoka Matsuri Daihanabi Taikai. They are also held in cities like Tokyo's Sumidagawa Hanabi Taikai.
Japan's fireworks are known for exploding in perfect circles and changing color. There are various types and sizes of fireworks, and in large festivals, they may fire tens of thousands of them into the air.
Japan has many lovely customs in the summer. If you know the culture, you'll be able to enjoy your trip even more.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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