Japan has four distinct seasons, and there are many traditional events and holidays throughout the year that celebrate the seasons. Along with the seasonal changes, you also see changes in the food, and since long, Japanese have favoured eating dishes made using fresh seasonal ingredients.
One of the ways to enjoy a trip to Japan is to be aware of the major events and festivals, customs and traditions including food available in each month. In this feature, we talk about some of the customs and traditions that have been followed over the centuries in the month of July.
Some of the names for the month of July in Japanese are Tanabatazuki (七夕月), Fumizuki (文月), Ominaeshizuki (女郎花月). The Tanabata Festival (七夕), known as one of the biggest festivals in Japan, is held annually in July in various regions of Japan.
Tanabata (July 7)
The month of July in Japan is incomplete without the Tanabata Festival, or Star Festival. The Tanabata Festival is a Chinese tradition brought to Japan. Originally, it was held according to the lunar calendar, which is about a month later than the Gregorian calendar. However, today it is celebrated across Japan between July 7 and August based on the Gregorian Calendar. It is a celebration of the meeting of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi (represented by the stars Vega and Altair) in the sky.
Japanese people write their wishes and dreams on tanzaku, a long, narrow strip of colorful paper on which Japanese poems are written (vertically). This tradition has been carried out since the Edo period, and tanzaku come in 5 colors: green, red, yellow, white, and black. Once a wish is written on the tanzaku, it is tied to bamboo leaves.
The Tanabata Festival is considered one of the most important festivals in Japan, and the four largest Tanabata Festivals in Japan are the Sendai Tanabata Festival in Miyagi Prefecture, the Anjo Tanabata Festival in Aichi Prefecture, the Hiratsuka Tanabata Festival and the Sagamihara Tanabata Festival in Kanagawa Prefecture.
Streets and alleys in various areas are also decorated with various traditional ornaments during the Tanabata Festival. You will massive colorful lanterns adorning shopping streets.
O-Chugen (中元, July 15)
In ancient times, the Chugen Festival used to be held by having bonfires and worshiping gods and goddesses to atone for ones sins. Today, O-Chugen is when Japanese give gifts to close family members, friends and co-workers as a sign of appreciation and indebtedness.
O-Chugen gifts must be sent before July 15th, and if gifts are sent after July 15th, they are not referred to as O-chugen, but as Shochumimai or Shochuoukagai (summer gifts).
Marine day or Sea Day (third Monday in July)
Marine Day is a national holiday in Japan. Since Japan is an island, this holiday was created to show respect and gratitude to the sea.
This year’s Marine Day was supposed to fall on July 19, but because it is too close to the Tokyo Olympics, the holiday has been adjusted to July 22, in order to prioritise the convenience of Japanese residents who want to watch the Olympics.
Doyo No Ushi No Hi (土用の丑の日)
In Japan, Ushi (丑) stands for ox, which is one of the 12 Chinese astrological zodiacs, and Ushi no Hi (丑の日) literally means day of the ox. Doyo (土用) is the period of 18 days before the first day of spring, the first day of summer, the first day of fall and the first day of winter, and it is the change of seasons.
So Doyo No Ushi No Hi is an ox day during this period of seasonal change, which falls every 12 days in this period. And in 2021, Doyo no Ushi no Hi falls on July 28, 2021 (Wednesday).
The Japanese commemorate this day by eating eel which is known to have a cooling effect on the body in the hot summer months.
One of the most popular eel dishes eaten on the day of Doyo no Ushi no Hi is Unaju. Unaju is grilled eel covered in sweet soy sauce (tare) and sprinkled with sansho (Sichuan pepper) placed on top of hot rice served in a rectangular box (jubako), which is usually decorated with traditional Japanese motifs.
These days you can buy the ingredients below at any time, however, these ingredients are best when eaten in the right season. If you come to Japan in July, you must enjoy the following seasonal ingredients:
Seafood: eel (unagi, ウナギ), loach (dojo, ドジョウ), squid (ika, イカ), abalone (awabi, アワビ)
Fruits and Vegetables: green soybeans (edamame, 枝豆), watermelon (suika, スイカ), melon, cucumber (kyuri, キュウリ), eggplant (nasu, ナス)
Wagashi: Kuzukiri (arrowroot noodles, 葛切り), agar-agar (kanten, 寒天)
Hope this feature has given you a good idea of what to expect in Japan during July. Keep an eye out for some of the things mentioned here and you’re sure to have a wonderful holiday in Japan.
Let us know if there is something that needs to be fixed: Feedback Form