Japanese Vocabulary: 13 Summer Words You Need to Know

In this article we will explore 13 Japanese words related to the Summer season in Japan. This is the season known for the high humidity, rainy period, summer festivals, bathing in the sea, and much more! 

We will talk about traditional things to find during Summer festivals, the most important one, the Obon, and also seasonal food, flowers, activities, traditional objects, and useful adjectives and words to describe the hottest season!

1. Natsu ・夏 – Summer!

First of all, the word “Summer” itself, in Japanese ・なつ ・Natsu. Even if Japanese summer is hot and humid, it’s the season with the largest number of festivals!

You can combine this kanji to have: 

  • 夏休み  –  Natsuyasumi, “summer vacations” (from 20th July to 3rd August) 
  • 夏めく  –  Natsumeku, meaning “beginning to look like summer”
  • 夏バテ  –  Natsubate (or 夏ばて in Hiragana), the “Summer fatigue”. This particular word perfectly represents how you can feel during hot and sunny days: exhausted and without energy. The traditional remedy to fight the fatigue is the 鰻 – Unagi, “eel”, and seaweeds, which will give you body stamina and strength.
  • 夏祭り  –  Natsumatsuri, the “summer festival”! The ones where you will find street food stands, fireworks, traditional dance, and games. And of course people in their traditional Japanese clothing!

2. The Summer Kimono: Yukata・浴衣

You can’t think of a summer festival without imagining a Yukata. It’s the traditional summer Kimono, lighter and informal. It’s not made of silk, but of fresh cotton, linen or hemp, ideal for summer. Women use Yukata with floral and colorful patterns, ribbons and rose pins to their hair. Men wear darker patterns with obi (kimono belt) tied at their waist.

The kanji to write it are 浴びる・abiru, for “bathing” or “showering”, and 衣・koromo, for “robe”. Literally, it’s the “bathing cloth”, used in the onsen (traditional Japanese hot spring) after a relaxing bath!

3. Hanabi・花火

Hanabi・はなび・Fireworks are a must during a summer festival. They are a popular and crowded event. People will compete to get a good viewing spot, also with advance reservations! Unlike western countries, where fireworks celebrate a special event, in Japan there’s no need for a special reason.

To write it, use the “flower” kanji (Hana・花) with the one for “fire” (Hi・火): they are the fire flowers indeed.

4. Yatai・屋台

Yatai are the stands or carts for drinks and food, another essential element during festivals. They can offer you Yakisoba (stir-fried noodles with vegetables and meat), Okonomiyaki (a Japanese-style savory pancake, with chopped vegetables, meat or seafood, following the customer’s taste), Yakitori (grilled chicken), Oden (Japanese hotpot with daikon, tofu, and fish cake), Ramen (noodles in hot soup) and much more! 

The first kanji, 屋, has the meaning of “roof”. It’s used after some words to designate its shop. For example, 花 (Hana, flower) → 花屋 (Hanaya, florist). The second kanji is 台・だい, meaning “stand/pedestal”. A “stand with a roof” is the place to eat some Japanese food!

5. Kingyo sukui・金魚すくい

Kingyo sukui (in Hiragana: きんぎょすくい) means “goldfish scooping”. At a stall, you can try to catch a goldfish (金魚) with a net made out of paper. However, it’s not as easy as it seems: even if you catch a fish, the paper net will surely tear up if you don’t do it carefully! 

This is a very popular activity to do during a Summer festival for anyone, from children, groups of friends, and couples too!

6. Obon・お盆

Talking about summer festivals, here’s Obon・お盆. It’s one of the three most important annual festivities, together with New Year’s, and Golden Week. It lasts 3 days, from the 13th to the 15th of August, according to the lunar calendar. The date can change to the middle of July, according to the solar calendar and the region.

This festival celebrates the ancestor’s souls, following a 500 years old Buddhist tradition (to know more about religions in Japan, check this article). It’s believed that the souls of the dead come back to visit their living relatives.

On the first day of the Obon, Chouchin (提灯・Japanese paper lanterns) will guide the spirits to their previous homes with their lights. On the last day, the same thing will occur, letting lanterns float in rivers, to guide the spirits towards the sky. Traditional 盆踊り・Bon Odori (Bon dances) are performed in streets, parks, and temples. Of course, it’s also important to offer food and sake to the miniature household altar (kamidana).

7. Isn’t Summer Atsui・暑い?

How to describe Summer without the word “hot”? 

Atsui is an -i ending adjective, which you can use like this:

今日は暑いですね。 (affirmative form)

Kyou wa atsui desune?

Today’s hot, isn’t it?
昨日は暑かったですね。

Kinou wa atsukatta desune?

Yesterday was hot, wasn’t it? 

Be careful not to confuse it with the adjective 熱い・Atsui, which has the same pronunciation and meaning, but refers to hot objects (drinks and food) or “to get enthusiastic with something”.

このお茶は熱くて飲めない。

Kono ocha wa atsukute nomenai.

This tea is too hot, I can’t drink it.

2人は熱い仲だ。

Futari wa atsui nakada.

They are madly/deeply in love with each other.

8. Tsuyu・梅雨

Summer is also the rainy season in Japan. To write Tsuyu, use the kanji of Japanese apricot tree (Ume・梅), which blooms at the beginning of summer, in June, and the kanji for rain (ame・雨). 

The rain season occurs from the end of May until the beginning of July. It marks the arrival of summer. This period has become part of Japanese culture since ancient times, blessing people with rain, fundamental for rice cultivation.

9. Ajisai・紫陽花 

Ajisai it’s the Hydrangea, believed to be a Japanese native flower, first discovered and cultivated here. In Europe, it’s also called “the rose of Japan”. From the Yama Ajisai, the “Hydrangea of the mountain”, a particular sweet tea called “amacha” can be obtained.

Going to view Ajisai during the rainy season is like going to see Sakura blooming in spring.

10. Kakigoori・かき氷

Kakigoori is the Japanese shaved ice dessert, with syrup and condensed milk on the top, to cool off during summer. It’s served in a bowl, with other toppings such as red beans or fresh fruit. You can eat it with a spoon, thanks to its soft texture similar to snow!

Indeed, the word comes from the verb かく (kaku, to scratch) and 氷, Koori, for “ice”.

11. Fuurin・風鈴

These little objects are the Fuurin, “wind chimes”. The composition is simple: a decorated glass bulb and a piece of paper with a wish or phrase written. The paper will flutter in the summer breeze and make the tiny ball inside the glass bulb ring. This sound is the symbol of summer in Japan, together with the cicadas sound. 

Of course, you have to write it with the kanji of “wind” (風・かぜ) and “bell/chime” (鈴・すず).

12. Hiyake・日焼け

Hiyake is the suntan or sunburn, literally “sun” (日・ひ) and the verb “to burn” (焼く・やく). In Japan, this concept is quite different from western countries. While in America and Europe people try to get a beautiful tan, even with artificial methods, in Japan women prefer white skins to tanned ones. Therefore, many UV protection goods exist, together with arms and legs covers. It’s a tradition that goes back to the Heian period (794 to 1185), where women with light and pale skin represented beauty at the court.

13. Ramune・ラムネ

Ramune it’s the Japanese soda, a carbonated soft drink widely popular in summer. The word comes from the borrowed English word lemonade. It’s known for its distinctive bottle, with a marble lock in its neck. It’s widely consumed during summer festivals, coming in 57 different flavors.

Hope you have enjoyed learning useful Japanese words about Summer!

Author: Valeria (graduated at Ca’Foscari University Japanese Studies)

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