For many Japanese citizens and residents, it has been a long two and a half years of not being able to travel overseas. Now, as the rainy season arrives in some parts of the archipelago, including Tokyo, this also means that summer is just around the corner. With humidity in the air, there is an optimism in the streets that this year will, finally, be closer to the pre-pandemic Japanese summer we know and love.
The clearest sign is that large events are returning, with crowds. In July, Fuji Rock, the country’s biggest outdoor music festival, will be held in Niigata with a mix of domestic and international performers, bringing back musicians from overseas for the first time in two-and-a-half years. Rock in Japan and Summer Sonic will return to entertain more music lovers in August, both after two years of cancellations.
The Japanese summer is also incomplete without a wide array of matsuri cultural festivals. Kyoto and Aomori will see the return of Gion and Nebuta festivals, respectively, with an army of people marching along with decorative colourful floats in the incredible heat (I’m tempted to visit the spectacular Nebuta Festival, in particular – and for the first time). These events usually attract millions of visitors; matsuri big and small across Japan provide occasions for people to wear their yukata unlined summer robes, get out onto the streets and see friends and family to embrace the summer season together.
The matsuri have played an important role for decades and – in some parts of the country – even centuries. They help to nurture and maintain the bond in communities because no matsuri can be held without an organised team of men and women, young and old, from the neighbourhood. Here in Japan, we’re all hoping that the chochin lanterns we use to illuminate the forthcoming matsuri nights will represent the light at the end of a very long tunnel.
Junichi Toyofuku is Monocle’s associate bureau chief in Tokyo.