Carefully watching and celebrating the passing of the seasons is a key part of Japanese culture, and a tradition that can be seen from the earliest Japanese art up to the present day. With the keen attention paid to the signs of the seasons, some items and patterns indelibly symbolize summer in Japan. You may have noticed these yourself, whether when visiting or just from watching your favorite Japanese shows or films. From traditional ways to beat the heat to seasonal patterns, read on to find out more about summer in Japan, and how to get that quintessentially Japanese summer look at home!
Japanese Summer Interiors
These days, Japan relies on air conditioning to keep cool in the brutal heat of summer, but these traditional trappings and coping strategies are still popular – whether due to nostalgia or functionality.
Igusa is the Japanese name for the rushes traditionally used to make tatami mats. Igusa and tatami flooring are prized for their pleasantly fresh grassy smell, smooth surface, and cooling properties – the cool-to-the-touch sensation of sitting on tatami is the secret behind the popularity of igusa rugs. Although tatami rooms are less and less common in Japan these days, particularly in cities, people still crave the comfortable feel of tatami in summer. Igusa rugs give the same sensation, while providing a softer seating surface with gentle padding. Additionally, most modern igusa rugs fold up for storage, making them easy to use and easy to store out of season.
Photo by Christian Kaden on Flickr
Sudare are hanging screens most commonly made from bamboo or wood held together with string or cords. They are traditionally put up for summer to shield the indoors from sun and insects, while letting any cooling breezes pass through unhindered. Although naturally less common in modern-day Japan, they still carry the nostalgic association of summer in days gone by. Sudare even have a noble history – courtly ladies of the Heian period were cloistered behind screens like these, able to see the outside world without being seen.
Photo by narumi-lock on Flickr
Noren curtains are a familiar sight in Japanese doorways, and just like you put away your knits and dig out lighter outfits once the temperature rises, noren also get a summer makeover. Summer noren are woven more loosely to make sure no treasured breezes are blocked from getting in, while still shading the sun’s rays.
Furin Wind Chimes
Photo by Héctor García on Flickr
Before modern technology, Japanese people used a staggering array of strategies to take their minds off the heat and humidity characteristic of the summer months. Wind chimes are a particularly interesting example – because they sound similar to a suzumushi, a variety of cricket that heralds the coming of autumn, it was thought that just hearing them ring would put you in mind of cooler times. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the gentle tinkle of wind chimes is perfectly relaxing on a warm summer day.
Japanese Summer Patterns
Many traditional Japanese patterns are based on the natural world, which give strong seasonal associations to certain designs. Correctly reflecting the season in your clothes and accessories is traditionally considered the height of chic in Japan – here are some patterns that are perfect for evoking Japanese summer.
The Japanese have enjoyed firework displays in summer for centuries. Like many other hallmarks of the season, fireworks are strongly associated with traditional summer festivals. Japanese firework patterns bring the spectacle to life with stylized designs, often using resist-dyeing to recreate sparks of colors spreading across the night sky.
Goldfish patterns are also strongly associated with summer through the traditional game of goldfish scooping, a summer festival staple. It’s also said that goldfish patterns became popular for fans and other summer accessories because people found relief from oppressively hot days by imagining being surrounded by cool water like a goldfish.
Flowering in July and August in most of Japan, the unusual shape and bright colors of Japanese morning glories, or asagao, make them instantly recognizable as a symbol of summer. Morning glories are a sign of the season in both visual and literary Japanese tradition, making appearances in everything from kimono to haiku.
Summer in Japan starts with the humid and grey rainy season in June, which is when the beautiful hydrangea, or ajisai, springs into bloom. Cherished as a bright part of this pretty dismal start to the season, a pattern of hydrangeas will instantly evoke the drizzly days on the cusp of summer.
Japanese Summer Fashion
In Japan, nothing is more summery than a group of friends all putting on their cotton Yukata for an evening out at a fireworks festival. Yukata is the kimono’s more casual cousin, typically made from printed cotton and worn exclusively in summer. Donning traditional dress for a day is increasingly popular with both men and women, leading to a wide variety of styles being offered at every price point. You can even get a whole yukata set with all the accessories you need to complete the look. For more details, check out our article on kimono and yukata
This Japanese summer look is even more casual than the yukata, and originated as men’s nightwear, never worn outside the home. However, you can’t beat comfort – over time the Jinbei became a common sight on Japanese streets in summer. With a generous cut and loose seams that let air through, jinbei might just be the perfect summer outfit. They’re popular among both men and women – and especially adorable on kids!
A classic summer staple with both traditional and modern outfits, summer sees many Japanese women hang up their leather handbag and opt for a basket bag, or , woven from rattan, hemp, or other natural materials. Kago-kinchaku, fabric drawstring bags surrounded by a transparent rattan frame, are particularly popular with yukata or kimono looks.)
If you love Japanese summer items but can’t get to Japan to enjoy them in person, don’t worry! With FROM JAPAN, you can get all these items and more delivered right to your door.