August is the height of the Japanese summer and when temperatures reach their highest. It can reach upwards of 40°C in some places, but there are still plenty of events throughout the month to enjoy in the sticky heat.
The main holiday in August is the festival of Obon.
The festival runs from August 13–16 and many Japanese companies give their employees time off to enjoy this traditional holiday which sees people welcome the spirits of their ancestors into their homes and pay their respects to them.
With summer vacation in full swing, lots of people are off work and spending this month with their families and friends and enjoying the many festivals that take place over the summer period.
Enjoy the food in August!
In Japan, August is the time for somen, chilled “hiyashi soba” noodles, and sweeter treats like watermelon and “kakikori” shaved ice.
All of these dishes are fantastic for taking the edge off the summer heat and if you venture inside a supermarket or convenience store during this month, you’ll find lots of delicious seasonal bento, which are definitely worth checking out if you have the chance.
What is somen?
Somen noodles are the thinnest Japanese noodles made out of flour.
They’re very refreshing when served in the summer months, when they grace Japanese dinner tables everywhere, and are prepared by boiling them and serving them with a “mentsuyu” dipping sauce.
Some locales even cool the noodles in ice water first for even more refreshment.
They’re often garnished with green onion and ginger or served alongside tempura.
Somen is also one of the foods that you won’t get told off for playing with! Nagashi somen is a game that uses bamboo which has been sliced in half vertically and constructed into one long water slide.
Noodles are released down the water slide and everyone at the bottom has to try and catch them.
Traditionally, these structures can be quite long, but sets that can be used at home are available too.
It’s always a hoot when someone breaks out the bamboo and somen, so one of these sets makes a unique souvenir from Japan for the host or hostess in your life.
The best place for foodies in August
If you’re traveling Japan in August, we recommend checking out Kibune in Kyoto, where you can enjoy seasonal Japanese cuisine on a raised platform above a babbling river and surrounded by forest.
This culture of enjoying food by the river originally took place on terraces built along the riverbanks and is one of the things that signifies summer in Kyoto.
This kind of dining can also be enjoyed in central Kyoto at restaurants along the Kamo River if that’s more convenient for you, but Kibune and its clear mountain streams are the mecca of river platform dining. You can even dip your toes in the water as you eat.
There are lines of traditional Japanese eateries offering this rivertop dining in Kibune, so feel free to take a walk around and find the perfect spot for you.
The cafes in this area are great for matcha tea-flavored desserts too!
And if you decide to make the journey all the way out to Kibune, you should definitely check out Kifune Temple which is situated upstream.
Famous for its water god, the temple is famous as the temple to go to if you want to find “the one.”
Marriage isn’t the only social contract this famous temple will bless with a little luck though, in fact, many people come here to pray for good luck in their job hunt.
This author also received a little luck after a visit to this temple and I became pregnant with my first child after a visit.
Maybe it was just a coincidence, but, then again, maybe not!
- Address: 180 Kuramakibunechō, Sakyō-ku, Kyoto, 601-1112
- Open: 6:00–20:00 (May 1–November 30)/6:00–18:00 (December 1–April 30)
- Open everyday. Free entry.
The next highlight of August to enjoy is the symbol of the Japanese summer: fireworks!
Around this time of year, all kinds of fireworks go on sale in supermarkets, toy shops, and convenience stores which Japanese people can enjoy with their friends and family.
There really are all sorts available, from sparklers and rockets to truly unique fireworks that pop out toys.
Fireworks may be on sale all over the place, but that doesn’t mean you can light them up wherever you please.
Lots of inner-city and neighborhood parks and open sauces ban fireworks to avoid the risk of fire and making too much noise for the people who live there.
These places will be marked with signs that say “火気厳禁” or “total fire ban.”
If you’re not sure whether a park permits fireworks or not, just try asking a local because they’ll know.
Even if somewhere does permit fireworks, you should probably avoid fireworks that emit a lot of noise or smoke so that you don’t upset the neighbors anyway!
- Always keep a bucket of water on hand.
- Avoid fireworks that emit a lot of noise or smoke.
- Avoid making too much noise.
- Do not aim the fireworks at people, houses or playground equipment.
- Make sure all fireworks are completely extinguished and take your garbage home at the end.
Let’s go to a fireworks display! Miyajima Water Fireworks Festival
Summer festivals and fireworks displays take place all over Japan in August.
Three of the biggest fireworks displays are Nagaoka Matsuri Fireworks Festival (Niigata Prefecture), Omagari Fireworks Festival (Akita Prefecture) and the Tsuchiura All Japan Fireworks Competition (Ibaraki Prefecture, but held in October).
Out of all of the beautiful displays, you’ll find throughout summer in Japan, one display that we would like to recommend to you is the Miyajima Water Fireworks Festival, which is a beautiful combination of fireworks and cultural heritage.
Large, colorful fireworks are fired from the boats on the water to create a magical night sky behind the famous silhouette of the Itsukushima Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Not only do you get that perfect Instagram pic, but you can also spend the day sightseeing in Hiroshima and on Miyajima Island before donning your yukata at night and enjoying this dazzling show.
■ Miyajima Water Fireworks Festival
- Date: August 24 (Canceled for 2020 and 2021 due to the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics)
- Miyajima Tourist Association: https://www.miyajima.or.jp/english/event/event_hanabi.html
Three tips for getting the most out of your August summer festival experience
1. Wear a yukata
A summer festival is the best time to break out your yukata and get dolled up!
Lots of Japanese people enjoy festivals in yukata and as summer is the only season warm enough to wear one, you should seize the opportunity if possible too.
If you would like to buy a yukata, you can find affordable options at the mall in stores like AEON, Ito Yokado, and Uniqlo.
2. Sample Japanese street food at yatai
One of the best parts of summer festivals in Japan is the food you can try at yatai stalls.
Here you can enjoy everything from nationwide staples like “yakisoba” noodles, “takoyaki” octopus bites, and “kakikori” shaved ice with fruit syrup to rare local delicacies.
Some even have items for sale.
Wandering around the festival with a beer or other alcoholic beverage in hand is another highlight.
Just be aware that you may be asked to refrain from eating and walking in some crowded places and please make sure not to litter!
3. Try bonodori dancing
Summer festivals will often hold a “bonodori” dance.
“Bonodori” is a dance that is performed in a large ring of people to folk music in honor of the dead and is held once a year during the “obon” period.
The choreography changes depending on where you are, so don’t worry if you don’t know the moves, lots of other people are probably in the same boat!
Just imitate someone who looks like they know what they’re doing and try entering the ring.
You can only experience this in Japan in August, so if you happen to be traveling then, this is a must-see!
It’s often hard navigating a crowd as a traveler, so we recommend that you avoid using the bullet train or planes between August 10–16 as it’ll be difficult to book a ticket with so many people returning home to the countryside.
There will most likely be traffic jams on the highways too, so please plan accordingly!
The one last thing to be cautious about if you’re traveling during this period is heatstroke.
You can find very reasonably priced products to counteract heatstroke at the drugstore, so make sure to stock up on them before you travel.
- written by Sumire Hayakawa
- translated by Carley Radford