Japanese - Term 3, 2020

Summer in Japan

While we hunker down in New Zealand with short days and chilly mornings, the Northern Hemisphere enjoys their summer months. Summer in Japan is a time of festivals, of trying to keep cool in a very hot and humid summer season, and a time for study for school students who have their summer holidays in the middle of their school year. The school year in Japan starts in April and runs through to March, so the summer holidays are not quite as carefree as they are for NZ students. 

Summer is preceded by a rainy season – a few weeks of near constant drizzly rain and high humidity that turns walls mouldy and makes drying laundry nearly impossible. While the rain is needed for all the summer crops of rice, it is not a pleasant time and most Japanese are happy to stay inside with air-conditioning on during this season. Hotaru or fireflies are also a harbinger of summer. They are only around for a short few weeks, but their small lights delight children around Japan. 

July begins with Tanabata – the festival where two star-crossed lovers meet across the milky way for one night of the year on the 7th of the 7th. Young people write wishes on special paper called tanzaku and string these messages on bamboo. 

Photo: 平日には大量の園児が短冊を飾って行ったり。Tanabata - Tanzaku hanging on bamboo

Obon is also celebrated by families throughout Japan. This Buddhist tradition honours ancestors and is a time when families will visit the graves of their ancestors to clean them and bring offerings. Festivals are held and folk dances called bon-odori will be a key feature of these. 

Photo: 日本語: 東京・新宿、花園神社での盆踊りの風景Scene from a bon odori dance festival at the Hanazono Shrine, Shinjuku, Tokyo. 

As summer slips into autumn, other festivals take place to welcome the cooler weather. Tsukimi is the moon viewing festival held in late summer or early autumn, and celebrates the harvest. Tsukimi dango are eaten – small round dumplings made of rice which look like the moon. Japanese people do not see a man in the moon – rather they see a rabbit beating rice to make it into mochi – sticky rice cakes. Consequently rabbits and rice cakes have long been associated with the moon in Japan. 

You might like to find out more about the moon viewing festival by viewing these YouTube clips: 






Article by Belinda Sydenham, Facilitator, Future Learning Solutions - Centre for Languages