The Ultimate Travel Guide to Summer to Japan

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With the Japanese summer on the horizon, now is the perfect time to check out some of the season’s best experiences, from enjoying seasonal food and drink and travelling to lesser-known towns and villages to immersing yourself in Japan’s natural landscapes with fun outdoor activities. Here’s a guide to some of Japan’s most unique travel experiences you’ll only find in summer.

 

Quintessential summer activities you can’t miss

 

Soak in the atmosphere of a summer festival

Each summer, hundreds of festivals take place across Japan from endless traditional matsuri and firework festivals to a bevy of internationally renowned music festivals.

 

Ranked among the top fireworks displays in Japan, the Nagaoka Fireworks Festival in Niigata Prefecture is a two-day celebration in the first week of August featuring around 20,000 fireworks. Travellers from across the world gather along the banks of the Shinano River to witness the spectacular sight. In Aomori City, the Aomori Nebuta Festival is one of the most colourful summer festivals in all of Japan and is held between August 2 to 7. The festival’s highlight is the daily parade of enormous and meticulously crafted paper lantern floats which are accompanied by dancers and taiko drummers.

Aomori Nebuta Festival. Credit: Unsplash

 

Fuji Rock, Japan’s most iconic music festival, takes place at Naeba Ski Resort, Niigata Prefecture. Held in the last weekend of July, the line-up for this year includes The Strokes, Foo Fighters, Lizzo, Daniel Caesar, and Weezer.

 

Another popular music festival in Japan is Summer Sonic. Held over two days, the event takes place in Tokyo and Osaka with 2023 headliners including Kendrick Lamar, Liam Gallagher, Blur, and Fall Out Boy.

 

Catch a baseball game

Japan’s professional baseball season hits fever pitch during summer offering the chance to enjoy a fun-filled day out whether it’s by yourself or with friends and family. In Japan, attending a game is an interactive affair with balloons and umbrellas constantly waving in the air. You’ll also witness Japan’s love for mascots alongside synchronised cheers and team war cries. You might even hear the occasional live brass band playing to further stoke the frenzy.

 

Lesser-known destinations offering top summer experiences

 

Tokyo’s outlying islands

Most people know Tokyo as the big bold buzzing metropolis, but the Tokyo Islands couldn’t be more different to the city of the same name. This chain of volcanic islands includes the Izu Islands which are just a 2-hour ferry ride from Tokyo and technically part of the Greater Tokyo area. The islands’ rugged beaches, volcano-crafted landscapes, and lush forest-covered mountains offer a unique summertime segue. Regular ferry routes to and from Tokyo and between the islands make for a fun island-hopping adventure.

Shipwreck off the Ogasawara Islands, Tokyo. Credit: Unsplash

 

Hokkaido’s eastern coast and Shiretoko Peninsula

Hokkaido’s Shiretoko Peninsula offers pristine natural summertime beauty. Dominated by the Shiretoko National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this tip of the eastern Hokkaido peninsula is a landscape of mountains and cliffs which come to life in the warmer months. In summer, the peninsula’s five lakes (known collectively as Shiretoko Goko), are surrounded by hiking trails that offer scenes of hidden waterfalls, forests, grazing deer, and native flowers.

 

Summer food specialties

 

Cuisine that showcases Japan’s devotion to seasonality

The changing of the seasons is one of the most notable examples of how food provenance and seasonality are revered in Japan. Summer eating is all about keeping cool and eating locally. Hiyashi Chuka is a cold ramen noodle soup and is one of the most popular dishes in summer in Japan. It can be made with a variety of toppings, the most common combination being a mix of sliced ham, tomato, cucumber, and egg.

Zaru soba is another classic Japanese noodle dish which is perfect for cooling off in warm weather. Cold buckwheat soba noodles are served on a bamboo tray called a zaru with a side of dipping sauce (mentsuyu) made of sake, mirin, soy sauce, and katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes).

 

Summer beverages to cool down in the heat

A unique way to take in the impossibly beautiful countryside of Japan in summer is with a glass of Japanese-made wine at one of Japan’s rare but remarkable wineries. Kuju Winery is located at the foot of the Kuju Mountains, Oita Prefecture, and produces gorgeous pinot noir and chardonnay.

 

If beer is more your thing, beer gardens open to thirsty patrons as summer arrives across the country. Many beer gardens even operate what’s known as ‘free-flow bookings’ where customers are assigned a table for a fixed period of free-flowing beer. In Tokyo, you can even find summer beer gardens in the heart of the city. Hilton Tokyo and Marunouchi Hotel both run popular summer terrace events that include beer specials and other food and beverage offerings.

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