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Tips for Surviving Japanese Summer

Woman at beach

Many parts of Japan can get very hot and humid during the summer months (June-September). Read up on our top summer survival tips to help you make the most of your summer visit to Japan.

Like most other East Asian countries, many parts of Japan can get very hot and humid during the summer months (June-September). However, the summer is still a great time to visit Japan, with many unique Japanese summer foods, festivals and events that can only be experienced during the summer months. 

If you’re planning a summer trip to Japan, the following top tips, covering everything from Japanese ice creams and summer foods to specially designed summer clothing and cooler destinations, will help you know what to expect and have a more comfortable and enjoyable stay.

  • Carry a “Summer Survival Kit”

Seagulls

Prepare and carry a “summer survival kit” with you on your travels to help you weather the hot weather a bit better. Even if you can’t avoid it totally, carrying some key items to help you freshen up will go a long way to taking the edge off that summer heat and helping you enjoy your trip even more.


Suggested contents include an electric or paper fan (you can get some beautiful paper fans in Japan, and they have the added bonus that the batteries can never die, as it’s operated by your arm muscles), small towels, spare T-shirt and socks, wet wipes, hat and sunglasses, and sun cream - or go local and use “UV cut” clothes to protect yourself from the sun’s rays (try Uniqlo for these).

  • Fall in Love with Vending Machines 

Vending machines
 
Japan’s legendary army of vending machines are your best friend during the dog days of summer. These bundles of mechanical joy are to be found just about everywhere throughout Japan, from the crowded, neon-lit streets of Tokyo to the loneliest rice paddy in Yamagata.
 
During the sweltering summer months, they supply thirsty tourists and locals alike with an endless stock of ice cold drinks, running the gamut from the usual menu of Pepsi, Coca Cola and Fanta to some uniquely Japanese beverages such as bottled tea, Calpico, Natchan and the delightfully named Pocari Sweat. 


If you’re an eco-friendly type then there’s no need to worry, as all cans and plastic bottles are recyclable, and bins are easily found either next to the vending machines or outside konbini (convenience stores). If you’re lucky you may even stumble across an ice-cream vending machine - which leads us neatly onto the next point...

  •  Eat Ice Cream - Lots of It

Kakigori (Japanese shaved ice)
 
Need we say more? If you’ve ever longed for an excuse to cram more of the soft stuff into your mouth, then summer in Japan provides the ideal justification. Even better, Japan offers up many unique ice cream varieties so you can count that mid-afternoon treat as a “cultural experience” at the same time.


Universally sold in konbinis up and down the country, retro Japanese classics such as Yukimi Daifuku, Papico, Giant Cone, Azuki Bar, Pino, Mow and Gari-gari-kun occupy a similar place in adult and kids’ heads alike as our Mini Milks, Twisters and Soleros and are worth a try.

Alternatively, Japanese ice cream sundaes known as “parfait” are a feast for the eyes as much a the tastebuds if you’re a fan of traditional Japanese dessert flavours such as matcha, azuki, shirotama, and genmai-cha. Sembikiya, Takano Fruit Parlour, and Saryo Tsujiri are big names to look out for in the parfait world.

If you’re in the mood for more familiar flavours, make a beeline for American staples Baskin Robbins (known affectionately as “31” in Japanese due to its array of that number of flavours) or Cold Stone Creamery - at the latter, the servers are required to sing songs to you as they prepare your dessert, or else you get it for free!

  • Drink Beer - Lots of It

Angel Road Shodoshima
 
Following on from our top tip for those with a sweet tooth, is a similar one for those who prefer a cheeky tipple to a sweet treat (or perhaps you like both, who are we to judge?)


Fight off the summer heat and become a Japanese beer connoisseur at the same time by working your way through the Japanese canned beer canon, supping on ice-cold tins of beer by well-known domestic brands such as Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo, Suntory, and Yebisu.

Alternatively, ride the continuing Japanese craft beer boom and branch out into a curated sampling of domestic craft beers such as Yona Yona Ale by Yoho Brewing, COEDO by Coedo Brewery, Hitachino Nest varieties by Kiuchi Brewery, and anything by Baird Breweries.

  • Eat Traditional Japanese Summer Foods

Zaru soba

Eat traditional Japanese summer foods, especially designed to cool you down. You may only have to survive Japan’s sultry summer temperatures for a couple of weeks, but Japanese people have been doing it for centuries - and along the way they have developed quite a few foods to help them overcome the humid summer months.


These include cold noodle dishes such as zaru soba (chilled buckwheat noodles served on a bamboo dish), somen (chilled thin white noodles), and hiyashi chuka (chilled ramen noodles topped sliced ham, cucumber, tomato and egg). While cold noodles might not sound like everybody’s cup of tea, they are very cooling, so don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!

Unagi (freshwater eel) is believed to fortify those who eat it against summer fatigue - a popular dish is “unadon” (also known as “unagidon”), which is grilled eel served on a bed of white rice with a sticky sweet glazed sauce. 

Also, don’t miss traditional Japanese summer fruits such as peaches, cherries, and watermelon and traditional desserts such as kakigori (shaved ice with syrup poured on top, a lot like a Slush Puppy) and jelly-based desserts such as tokoroten, yokan and warabi-mochi.

  •  Play “Hunt the Aircon” - Shop or Admire Art Indoors

Matsumoto City Museum of Art
 
 Most large venues in Japan such as shopping malls and art and history museums, have proper air conditioning systems installed, making them a relative paradise for over-heated tourists during the sizzling summer months. 


For museums, you could do much worse than Ueno’s collection of leading national art, history and science museums, all conveniently located around 10 minutes walk from each other in sprawling Ueno Park: Tokyo National Museum, National Museum for Western Art, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and National Science Museum. 

For art lovers, Roppongi’s “art triangle”, a trio of highly-rated art museums, is a must-see: National Art Center Tokyo, Mori Art Museum, and Suntory Museum of Art. And for those who prefer something a little more out of the ordinary, why not try Tobacco and Salt Museum, Museum of Sewerage or Meguro Parasitological Museum?

Tokyo offers no end of mega-scale shopping destinations. Some of the largest, where you’re likely to be able to spend the longest without having to venture outdoors, include Takashimaya Tokyo in Shinjuku, Venus Fort and Odaiba Decks in Odaiba, and Ikebukuro’s conglomerate of department stores based over and around the station, while if you don’t mind venturing a little further afield try Lala Port in Toyosu, with over 500 stores, or Aeon Lake Town, Japan’s largest mall, in Saitama.

  • Dress the Part - Japanese Summer Clothing

Yosakoi dancers
 
Dress the part with weather-appropriate clothing. As you may have gathered from all those photos of Harajuku and Shibuya’s young fashionistas, anything goes in the fashion realm in Japan. 


However, when the mercury soars Japanese women are generally more likely to bare their legs in hotpants and miniskirts than they are to show their upper arms, shoulders or cleavage. The same is true for men, who usually opt for knee-length bermuda shorts and sandals combo rather than muscle vests - and in Japan, walking around shirtless is a no-no, unless you are at the beach, lake, or swimming pool. 

It’s up to you if you choose to bare some skin or if you prefer to cover up in loose-fitting cotton garments, but if the latter, then be sure to try some of Uniqlo’s cutting edge AIRism breathable clothing range, specially designed to keep you cool and comfortable all year round.

  • Escape to the Countryside - Head for Japan’s Deep North

Furano flower fields 
When it all gets too much there’s nothing else for it but to flee Japan’s sweltering cities and head for cooler climes. With that in mind, stage a great escape by incorporating a getaway to Japan’s grand north into your itinerary with a side-trip to either the Tohoku region or Hokkaido.
 

Tohoku, a cluster of six prefectures immediately north of Tokyo, doesn’t get much warmer than low to mid twenties, even in the peak of summer. As well as being home to many historical sites and nature destinations, the region also boasts many vibrant summer festivals. These include Akita Kanto Matsuri in early August, Awa-odori dance festival in Tokushima city, Shikoku, and Earth Celebration featuring KODO taiko drummers on Sadogashima Island in Niigata in late August.

Unlike the rest of Japan, Hokkaido, the second-largest and most northerly of Japan’s four main islands, has no rainy season, and the mercury rarely rises above the low twenties. This makes it the perfect destination for outdoorsy summer activities such as camping, hiking, and cycling. Furano’s colourful patchwork flower fields and remote and rugged Daisetsuzan and Shiretoko National Parks are two top picks for wannabee outdoor explorers.