Japan. Just as every country has their summer traditions, Japan has some of it's own and I’d like to share with you five of my favorite Japanese summer traditions.
Mushitori (Bug Catching)
In Japan, when the temperature rises, bugs of all shapes and sizes come out of hiding. Butterflies, dragonflies, bees, beetles, praying mantises, cicadas, crickets, you name it, and you’ll find them in Japan. When this happens, you may see the local supermarket or dollar store stocking up on small plastic terrariums and nets. These are for mushitori or bug catching. This activity is common amongst young children, especially boys, however is also done by entomology hobbyists and even those just interested in catching a rare insect!
To do mushitori, all you really need is a net and a small terrarium. A camera would also be great if you’re planning on catching and releasing. Once you have all of the required items, just find a park, walk up slowly to the insect you want to catch, and use your net to catch it. Be careful not to smash or hurt the insects when catching them, and have a great time!
Japanese Giant Hornet. Photo by Toshihiro Gamo on Flickr
Something to keep in mind when going bug catching is that there are several stinging insects like the Japanese giant hornet, so just make sure to trust your instincts and respect the space of any insect that may look like it can sting. And, if you do happen upon a Japanese giant hornet, remember to stay calm, not to swat at it, and slowly walk away.
Nagashi Sōmen (Flowing Sōmen Noodles)
After spending a long day in the hot summer sun, this is an experience that you will most definitely want to try! Nagashi sōmen or flowing sōmen noodles is an activity where you set up a course, usually a long and straight one made out of bamboo, and place a garden hose at the top of the course. Turning the water on, someone standing next to the garden hose places pre-boiled sōmen noodles into the course and lets it flow. People standing along the course then use chopsticks to try and catch the flowing sōmen noodles. The noodles that you’ve caught are then dipped into a cool sauce and slurped down.
Some tips to making this work are placing strainers at the end of the course to catch any loose noodles and making sure that the amount of noodles placed into the course isn’t too little or too much (too little would make the noodles too quick to catch while too much could act as a dam).
Suikawari (Watermelon Splitting)
Have you ever hit a piñata before? If you have, that’s great because that's basically the western version of suikawari. For this activity, you need a watermelon, a stick, and a blindfold. So, starting with the youngest member first (as you’d hope that they wouldn’t split open the watermelon before you get a chance to), blindfold them and have them circle around the stick 5-10 times. After that, position them in the right direction and guide them towards the watermelon, telling them right or left. Once they are confident with their position and you think they’re in the right place, tell them to hit the watermelon. Most people usually miss on their first try, but don’t worry, that just makes this activity even more fun! The activity ends when someone splits open the watermelon which you can take to the kitchen and cut for people to eat.
Senkō Hanabi (Japanese Sparklers)
Once the sun has set and it’s nice and dark, it’s time for fireworks – but not just any sort of fireworks. In Japan–though fireworks in general are thought to hold an image of summer and Japan itself has a lovely array of fireworks–there is a special firework that you just have to play if you’re going to be playing fireworks in Japan at all. And, that firework is called senkō hanabi. It’s small and doesn’t usually have such a long life; however, it’s the myth behind it that makes it so special.
Most senkō hanabi will have a colorful start and end point that is very easy to distinguish from the area where you’re supposed to hold it. And, it is this area of the firework that you need to pay close attention to. Once lit, tiny delicate sparks will fly and the fire will slowly travel upwards. Most times, the fire will die short of reaching the end of the colorful area, in which case you can just try again with a new one. If however, the fire does reach the end of the colorful area, it is said that if you are in a relationship with someone that you will live happily ever after with that person. And, if you aren’t in a relationship, then either way, it is said that you will still live happily ever after. A nice way to end the night isn’t it?
Last but not least on my list is to attend as many summer events that you can. Summer in Japan is festival season with fireworks, firefly, and illumination events – all of these are worth going to! There are food stalls with fried squid, fried noodles, takoyaki, okonomiyaki, beef skewers, candied fruits, and cotton candy! There are even games at some where you can pick a random prize or scoop up some goldfish.
Going to a summer event and doing the things on this list will definitely give you a very fun-filled Japanese summer with lots of memories to look back on.