Furuzamami Beach on Zamami Island (Okinawa). Photo by Roméo A. on Unsplash
When travellers think of a trip to Japan, images of icy winter ski slopes and springtime cherry blossom-lined streets are often the first things that come to mind. However, travelling in Japan’s summer season opens a plethora of travel opportunities – many of them hidden in parts of Japan you might not have heard of.
During Japan's summer, you can find authentic local street festivals, unique seasonal food, and firework displays almost everywhere you go. The summer months also offer ideal conditions for hikers and lovers of the outdoors and are a chance to experience an alternative side of more popular winter destinations from the Japanese Alps to Hokkaido’s wild national parks.
Check out this list of the most exciting things to do and places to go during a summertime escape in Japan.
What To Do
Soak up a local summer festival
Summer in Japan goes hand-in-hand with fireworks (hanabi) and festivals (matsuri). Several popular street festivals take place across Japan in the summertime and one of the most popular is the Kanazawa’s Hyakumangoku Festival. Taiko drum displays kick off the parade which continues with an energetic performance in front of the Tsuzumi-mon gate. The mesmerising parade then snakes through the city, featuring traditional dancing and music in the streets. https://www.japan.travel/en/spot/237/
If fireworks are your thing, Miyajima Fireworks Festival is one of the most special hanabi in Japan. Fireworks are launched from the water off the shore of Miyajima and cast stunning reflections on the surface of the sea. The outline of the ‘floating’ Itsukushima-jinja shrine against the lit sky makes for a stunning sight. https://www.japan.travel/en/destinations/chugoku/hiroshima/miyajima/
Japanese street festival. Photo by zoo_monkey on Unsplash
Do go chasing waterfalls
Japan is a great place to get a taste of the hectic city life, but the country also boasts hidden gems of breathtaking nature spots. And with 73% of Japan being mountainous, all those mountains generate stunning waterfalls – or taki, in Japanese.
Nachi Falls, located in Wakayama prefecture, is one of the most popular waterfalls in Japan. It is well-known as being Japan's tallest, single, uninterrupted drop waterfall and makes the prettiest of backdrops to the stunning Seigantoji temple.
Kegon Falls is also a highlight you shouldn’t miss when in Nikko, Tochigi prefecture. Located in a deep forest, it is one of the area’s most popular hotspots alongside the revered Toshogu Shrine. The waterfall is the only exit for the waters of Lake Chuzenji and can be seen from the observation platform at the base of the falls, accessed via a 100-metre-deep elevator. https://www.japan.travel/en/things-to-do/nature/waterfall/
Nachi Falls, Japan. Photo by Zhipeng Ya on Unsplash
Discover fields of sunflowers
In summer, there are many fields of sunflowers located across the country, from the northern Hokkaido prefecture all the way down to the south-western Shikoku islands. In the small Hokkaido town of Hokuryu-Cho, the Hokuryu Sunflower Village blooms over two million sunflowers with the bright buds outnumbering the local population.
These Instagram-able summer floral fields pop up from late July to mid-August, the vibrant fields are free to enter for visitors looking for perfectly picturesque snapshots. You can choose to simply stroll through at your own leisurely pace, or even hop into a cart and get driven around https://www.japan.travel/en/spot/1882/
Climb Mt Fuji
Outside of the summer months, Mt Fuji’s splendour can only be appreciated from afar. But in summer, keen climbers have the chance to scale this epic mountain which has become the symbol of Japan.
Mt Fuji opens to hikers from July to early-September, and many hikers opt for a two-day journey, resting at a hut situated halfway up the mountain before departing for the summit in the early hours of the morning. This plan puts you at the top in time for the picturesque sunrise. https://www.japan.travel/en/fuji-guide/
Mt Fuji in Summer. Photo by takahiro taguchi on Unsplash
Discover seasonal foods
Seasonality, or the use of fresh, seasonal ingredients, is intrinsic to Japanese cuisine and culture – so much so that seasonal food has its own word, shun, which describes the peak period of production in Japan.
When it comes to Japanese summer ‘shun’, one of the most iconic dishes is sōmen. Ultra-thin noodles made from wheat flour are topped with a cold, soy sauce-based sauce. And it’s not just limited to food either. Japanese people create delicious plum liquor (umeshu) by steeping plum inside a glass jar, filling it with sugar and white liquor https://www.japan.travel/en/things-to-do/eat-and-drink/
Go island hopping and discover a myriad of isle landscapes
Most people don’t know that Japan is made up of 6,852 islands, and summer in Japan means island-hopping adventures. The northern islands are known for cooler summers, forests, hot springs, and breathtaking views. Down south, the islands are tropical, with calm, blue waters, and warm temperatures.
For a tropical getaway just a stone’s throw from Tokyo, take a boat or flight to the Izu Islands. Sometimes known as the Tokyo Islands, they have year-round warm weather, beautiful beaches and some of the best snorkelling in Japan. https://www.japan.travel/en/guide/island-hopping/
Devour soft serve ice creams
Cones of soft ice cream (referred to in Japan as “soft cream”) can be found all over Japan. Creamy and thick, Japan’s soft ice cream is popular throughout the country, and many towns showcase their local identity through unique flavours. A classic summer treat, you can find unique-flavoured soft serves everywhere from roadside rest areas, historical sites such as shrines and temples, scenic areas and, of course, at local convenience stores.
Soft serve made with matcha from tea leaf growing regions like Kyoto are extremely popular with their dark green colour, a distinct astringency and roundness in flavour, and smooth texture. In Kanazawa, which is one of the largest producers of gold leaf in Japan, the classic ice cream cone is wrapped in a thin layer of gold leaf, promising to add an extra layer of glitter to your summer treat. https://www.japan.travel/en/things-to-do/eat-and-drink/
Soft Serve in Japan. Photo by Need Swanya on Shutterstock
Top Summer Destinations
Summer is one of the few times of the year when you can easily access Hokkaido’s untamed wilderness. The beloved snow destination turns into an outdoor lover’s summer paradise. Hokkaido is a drawcard for outdoorsy types, as well as those who prefer to explore by way of sightseeing cruises, hot air balloon rides, and observatories.
Many of the region’s ski resorts are still in action, their ski lifts allowing you to scale the incredible peaks and valleys for scenic hiking opportunities. Hokkaido can get hot and humid in mid-August but is comparably milder than what you’ll experience in other cities in Japan. https://www.japan.travel/en/destinations/hokkaido/
Beach-loving adventurers are beginning to discover that Japan is home to tropical hideaways stunning enough to compete with Fiji and Hawaii. You can dive and snorkel year-round in Okinawa, but the summer weather makes underwater adventures and marine activities extra special. Sea turtles and manta rays are just some of the amazing sea creatures you can expect to see on dives in the pristine waters of islands like Ishigaki Island and the Kerama Islands. Summer events include fireworks and traditional eisa dancing. https://www.japan.travel/en/destinations/okinawa/okinawa/
You'll also find popular beaches in Chiba , Wakayama , and Fukuoka, and other coastal areas such as Kamakura.
Nagano is known as ‘The Roof of Japan’ with all its majestic mountains. Just a hop and a skip from Tokyo, this region offers many mountain escapes to take in the fresh air and an escape from city temperatures. And climbing them is the best way to appreciate their massive scale.
The Shinetsu Trail is regarded as the best woodland trail in Japan. The 80-kilometre route follows that taken by traders and samurai warriors as far back as AD 710. It incorporates a string of 16 picturesque passes from Mount Madarao to Lake Nojiri, reaching an elevation of just over 1000 metres at its highest point as it straddles the Nagano and Niigata prefectures.
An easier way to experience Nagano’s summertime alpine world is to ride one of the many ropeways and ski lifts that operate still over the summer. At the top, you can often enjoy high-alpine trekking and wildflower viewing. https://www.japan.travel/en/destinations/hokuriku-shinetsu/nagano
Summer hiking in Hakuba, Nagano. Photo by Sunil Naik on Unsplash
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