Japanese Summer Delicacies

Summer in Japan is hot-- really hot! While air conditioning inside offers a moment of respite, outside it's difficult to find a spot of shade. Fortunately, there are several Japanese sweets to bring a touch of fresh relief to your summer travels.

Suika wari, cutting watermelon

Watermelons

More than a simple refreshment, watermelons are an essential element of a Japanese summer. On Japanese beaches, you will often find people playing suika wari, literally, "watermelon breaking." This family ritual involves hitting a watermelon with a baseball bat while blindfolded until it breaks, and everyone can grab a piece.

Enthusiasm for this fruit does not stop there. In recent years, watermelon farmers have been changing the shapes of watermelon (squares, hearts, pyramids) to make them more convenient to carry, or just more unique. However, these special watermelons are often much more expensive than the traditional, round-shaped ones.

 

Kakigôri, Japanese shaped ice with green tea
 

Kakigori

What could be better than an ice cream under the blazing sun! A variant of a snow cone, kakigori are cups of shaved ice piled high like freshly fallen snow, topped with a syrup of your choice. Among the most popular flavors are cherry, blueberry, lemon, green tea, and melon.

Formerly a dessert reserved for the Japanese elite, kakigori has become a popular and inexpensive treat that anyone can make at home. In Kyoto, the Gion Koishi pastry shop is famous for its delicious cups of shaved ice.

 

zaru soba, Japanese cold noodles
 

Cold Noodles

One of the best-known summer dishes, cold noodles, or zaru soba, can be served alone or with vegetable tempura and is a very popular light and refreshing Japanese food.

These buckwheat noodles are dipped in a broth, also served chilled, made with water, soy sauce, mirin (a type of saké), and dashi (fish stock made from powder or liquid).

 

Ayu, Japanese summer fish

Ayu

The season for grilled ayu start in early June. These freshwater fish are subtly sweet, with a light texture, and are among the most popular summer festival foods.

Traditionally, ayu are barbecued and shaped in a style reminiscent of the journey a fish takes upriver, against the current. Like the carp, it is known in Japan for its perserverance and courage.

 

Umeshu, plum liqueur, photo by iyoupapa

Umeshu on the Terrace

Each year, in June, people begin to make umeshu, a Japanese plum-based alcohol made with saké and sugar. This maceration process takes an entire year!

Known for its invigorating power, umeshu is an effective remedy against the fatigue associated with extreme heat! Served with ice or cut with cold water, this drink is perfect for a nice break on a Kyoto kawayuka, terraces built in the summer season along the Kamo River.

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