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Symbols of Japanese Summer
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August is the hottest month of the year in Japan. Not only is the temperature high, so is the humidity. The word for "hot" is "atsui(暑い)," and "humid" is "mushiatsui (蒸し暑い)." Although the northernmost Hokkaido is much cooler, the temperature there goes up to 30 degrees or more on an almost daily basis in August. This is called "manatsubi(真夏日)" or midsummer days. Let's look at symbols for the hot Japanese summer.

Yukata (浴衣

Yukata is an informal, unlined kimono made of cotton and worn with a narrow sash (obi). It is usually worn to the bath or in the summertime. Unlike ceremonial kimono, yukata is casual and comfortable to wear. It can be worn next to the skin. Wooden clogs (geta) are usually worn without Japanese socks (tabi) when wearing a yukata. Today many people wear yukata at summer festivals (matsuri), fireworks displays (hanabi-taikai), and the Bon Festival Dance (bon-odori). Recently the yukata has become fashionable among young women.

Bon-odori (盆踊り)

O-bon is a Buddhist festival in honor of the spirits of the dead who return to their families. It was originally cerebrated in mid-July according to the lunar calendar, but is now held from July 13 to 16, or from August 13 to 16 depending on the area. It is the biggest yearly holiday in Japan after New Years (shougatsu), and is a time for family and relatives to get together.

One of the events that customarily accompany o-bon is the bon-odori (Bon Festival Dance). Originally the dances were held to console departing spirits, but today they are simply enjoyed as entertainment. In open public spaces, communities build a platform (yagura) and lanterns are tied to it. People dance in a circle around the platform.

Hanabi (花火)

Firework displays (hanabi-taikai) are a typical summer scene in Japan. They originated in the Edo period (1603-1867), and it started with the competitive exhibition of fireworks between two fireworks factories, Tamaya and Kagiya.

Large-scale fireworks displays are held regularly at various locations, but enjoying small hand-held sparklers and low-risk fireworks in backyards is also very popular.

More symbols of Japanese summer are on the next page!

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