By SHERRY ZHENG
Cicada sounds accompanying evening walks home. Rain pouring down in muggy humidity. If these are not strong enough signs, then surely the sight of mosquito repellant and cooling spray moved to the front of drug stores scream ‘summer’ in Japan.
Having avoided summer for years despite hailing from one of the sunniest countries on earth (Australia), the thought of humid, sticky Japanese summers ironically sends shivers down my spine. Upon asking about what to expect for the next three months, I am often warned, both by fellow foreigners and locals well-acquainted with the season, that Tokyo’s summers are close to unbearable.
However, summer is not completely unwelcome. For a Japanese person, the images of mosquito repellent incense (katorisenkou), wind chimes (fuurin) and of course fireworks (hanabi) are closely associated with fond memories of summer. Japan, blessed with four distinct seasons, has cultivated a culture that associates certain luxuries to particular seasons.
The first luxury: summer calls for amazing food. She brings shaved ice (kakigoori), delicate mounds of snow-like ice, modestly covered in a gradient of syrup, out of hibernation. She revives cold noodles (hiyashi chuuka) – a colorful spread of carefully julienned toppings sitting atop of chilled ramen in refreshingly tangy sauce, and a sharp hit of Japanese mustard (karashi) on the side without fail every time.
Second: summer gathers people. She calls for summer festivals (natsu matsuri); for people donning yukata that have waited expectantly in closets for its turn; for exploding blooms of light and warmly-lit paper lanterns. Not only are living beings united, but the Buddhist custom of obon that falls in this period, reunites ancestral spirits too with their households.
Lastly; summer creates work. The start of summer in Tokyo is welcomed with a humid, rainy season (tsuyu) that stretches for weeks, creating two major concerns for people –footwear and laundry. Mold thrives and summer again creates more work in the home. The heat and humidity turns everyday tasks into feats, meaning that at the end of the day the beer tastes sweeter, food more nourishing and baths more rewarding.
As we turn to bid farewell to the Spring that has treated us ever so kindly, we prepare ourselves to greet Summer – a season that promises not only longer sweltering days and shorter sleepless nights but good memories of Tokyo for years to come.
On second thoughts, the unbearable Japanese summer may be worth suffering through. Photo by author.
Originally posted on June 11, 2014