This month, read Japanese literature, make wishes, and send summer gifts and greetings!
According to the lunisolar calendar, July is called “fumizuki” (文月, Literature Month). In light of this, we would like to recommend our personal favorite Japanese poet, Kaneko Misuzu who wrote upwards of 500 poems in her short lifetime. Although her poems are written for children, they contain such charm, such wit, and such a unique perspective on everyday life, that even adults will find them a treasure.
Are You an Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko is a beautiful anthology published in 2016.
Read a sample from the book here.
Kaneko Misuzu: Life and Poems of a Lonely Princess was published in 2018.
Summer can feel like a long stretch of hot, hotter, and hottest days, but giving a name to the heat helps you to see the progression of the season and to remember that cooler days are coming. A few important seasonal markers in the month of July are:
July 1: 山開き Start of the mountain climbing season
July 2 to 5 半夏生 Latter third of “Geshi” (夏至, 11th seasonal divide)
July 7 七夕 / 小暑 Tanabata/Heat begins in earnest
July 21 夏至 Summer solstice (2021)
July 22 大暑 Hottest day of the year
“Geshi” 夏至, seasonal divide) refers both to the hottest day of the year and to the period spanning late June and early July, which signifies the arrival of summer. 半夏至, which is the latter portion of geshi. Apparently, it comes from the name of a plant of the geshi plant that blooms around this time. Another name for geshi is “karasu bishaku” (鴉柄杓, Crow Dipper).
Celebrations and Events–Stars and Summer Greetings
For anyone who has grown up in Japan, July (or depending on the region, August) means Tanabata! The Festival of the Stars is based around the story of Princess Orihime and Prince Hikoboshi, two starry lovers who are only allowed to meet in the heavens once a year (weather permitting). On the days leading up to Tanabata, many schoolchildren and adults write their wishes on a long narrow strips of paper called “tanzaku” (短冊) and hang them on bamboo trees. This year, what are you wishing for?
Another important custom is Ochūgen. If you go to department stores like PARCO or SEIBU during July, you will see booths and posters advertising beautifully wrapped meats, jellies, and alcohol. The summer counterpart of Oseibo, this is another chance to send a gift to your relatives, a teacher, or a boss to whom you feel indebted.
Did You Know? If you decide to send Ochūgen once, you are committed for life! The other person will be expecting a gift every year from then on.
Shochū Mimai 暑中御見舞い
If you can’t afford to invest in summer gifts for the rest of your life, don’t worry. You can still send a summer greeting called shochū mimai (not to be confused with shōchū 焼酎, which is the alcohol!). The period for this greeting is between 小暑 and the autumn equinox. Remember, if the person you are writing to is in a position higher than you, write 暑中のお伺い, not 書中の御見舞い.
Foods That Begin With “う”
During July, whether it is hot, hotter, or hottest, we all need a little something extra to keep us going. You may already know that unagi (うなぎ, eel) and umeboshi (梅干し, pickled plum), “uri” (瓜, Oriental pickling melon) are popular power foods for the summer, because they all begin with the “u” sound.
Did You Know? The melon family includes pumpkin, watermelon, bitter gourd, and cucumber!
Customs: Hang Dry the Bugs and Bathe in Peaches
Once the rains stops and the sun comes out, it’s a good idea to air out clothes, books, papers, and anything that might have gotten damp during tsuyu (梅雨, the rainy season). This is called 土用の虫干し (a peculiar name–are we hanging the little bugs that have gotten stuck between the pages, too?).
The bath of choice during July is momo (桃湯, peach). Peaches came to Japan from China. They contain nutrients that promote healthy skin and sooth sunburns and bug bites. Make peach bath using peach tea bags, or if you have a friend or neighbor with a peach tree, ask for some fresh leaves, which you can boil in a cheesecloth and add to your bath, together with the water used for boiling.
What do you think of when you think of July in Japan? Which of these customs do you observe, or which ones are missing from this list? Let us know in the comments, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org We would love to hear from you!