Sweltering sun and summer holidays, August has arrived!
“Hazuki” (菜月, Leaf Month) comes from 「葉落ち月」, or Month of Falling Leaves. Since August according to the lunisolar calendar corresponds to our current calendar’s September or October, it aligns nicely with the start of fall. The promise of the coming season is a great comfort to those of us who struggle with summer heat and humidity!
Seasonal Events and Customs–Obon
Undoubtedly, the biggest seasonal event of the summer is Obon, which is observed between August 13 and 16 (or a month earlier in some regions). During this time, it’s believed that the spirits of the ancestors return to the earth for a brief stay with their loved ones. Most people take time off for family reunions and some visit the family grave on the 7th and begin preparing the house for the spirits’ return on the 12th. Food offerings, incense, and flowers are typically displayed on the “shouryoudana” (精霊棚, family altar), and sometimes a Buddhist priest is called to recite Buddhist sutras. For more details about Obon, check out our article, Obon Midsummer Festival.
Tip: If you are living in Japan and want to make the most of this holiday, you can use your paid leave on August 10, 11, and 12 to make yourself a 10-day summer holiday (starting on Saturday the 7th and ending on Monday the 16th, the last day of Obon).
Nature–The Most Self-Centered Creature
A wise man once asked, “What is the most self-centered creature in the world?” The answer is the “semi” (セミ, cicada), because all day long it is constantly crying “Me, me, me, me, me!” In case you miss this typical summer sound, or if you’ve never heard it before, here is a video that showcases the different semi sounds you will hear as the summer progresses. (The self-centered “minminzemi” ミンミンゼミ starts from 5:56.)
You may also be able to enjoy their summer serenade while watching some of the outdoor sporting events during the Olympic Games, so keep your ears peeled!
Food–Somen and Summer Vegetables
During the smothering hot month of August, many people lose their appetites. If rich, oily, or meaty foods put you off, or if you are a little tired of saving all your orange peels to clean off greasy frying pans, here are two easy and refreshing summer dishes to wake up your taste buds:
Somen with Grated Ginger
Somen noodles are one of those foods that make you feel a few degrees cooler when you eat them. Boil and drain, prepare your tsuyu (つゆ, dipping sauce) as you like it, and add a handful of finely chopped onions or chives and a dollop of freshly grated ginger. You’ll feel refreshed and energized! As a bonus, somen is a typical Obon dish, representing the twine used to tie up the ancestors’ luggage.
Cucumber and Okra Salad
Boil 8-10 okra for 2-3 minutes and transfer to a bowl of ice water. Chop two small cucumbers into coin-shaped slices and massage with salt. Rinse and add to a serving bowl. Drain okra, chop into bite-sized pieces, and add to bowl with cucumber. In a separate bowl, mix 2 teaspoons of sesame oil, 1 teaspoon of hondashi (本だし, fish powder), and 1 teaspoon of soy sauce. Drizzle over salad, and enjoy!
Along with natsu matsuri (夏祭り, summer festivals), probably the most reminiscent of summer days are hanabi taikai (花火大会, fireworks shows). Of course, fireworks are best when seen in person, but if you don’t have any shows near you, you can watch a giant fireworks show in Yamagata on YouTube, via drone footage!
August 14 (Saturday) 6:45-8:00 p.m. 山形大花火大会
To Wrap Up
That’s it! Whatever you do, we hope you are able to connect with family and enjoy a summer activity together, and be sure to let us know in the comments what you love or miss most about Japan in August!