Atsuiiiii…..Atsu! (atsui ~”it’s hot”)
These are the cries of Japanese people in the summertime.
In Japan, people will like to remind you that they do, in fact, have four distinct seasons. You might wonder why this seems to be something to brag about, but to many Japanese people, their seasons are one of the things they care about the most.
I once told someone here that in the US, kids try writing haikus in English. We use the whole 5-7-5 syllable rule and write really random stuff about lunch, or school, etc. I then learned that we had been missing something important. To make a proper haiku, you need kigo (a word that invokes a season).
Seasons dictate what you eat, what you see, what you wear…so they are an integral part to everyday life. In fact, you will often see restaurants changing their menus to reflect what is “seasonal.” Even places like McDonald’s have developed their own seasonal menus to help satisfy their Japanese clientele.
I made a list of some symbols of summertime in Japan for you guys. I hope that they will help you get in the mood for the season.
-Fuurin “windchime”….Not to be confused with furin “an (extramarital) affair.”
That might also be a seasonal word, but I’m not sure which season.
Fuurin are usually made of glass or metal with goldfish patterns painted on. They make a soft ringing noise that apparently Japanese people relate to feeling cool. It seems weird to me that there is a noise for coolness, but I did not grow up here. I will say, however, that the noise it makes is very calming and fuurin are a great gift.
-Katori Senko “coiled mosquito-killing incense”
The pig is just a container for the incense. It was a Japanese idea to decide to coil the incense into a swirl, because it could burn for longer. Incense is still useful in Japan because many older houses with traditional sliding doors do not have mesh screens.
The pig incense holder is said to have originated in Aichi prefecture, in a town known for its ceramics, Tokoname. Apparently pigs in this town were getting bothered by mosquitoes, so the villagers would take ceramic pots out to them with the incense inside. The opening of the pot was too wide and the incense was having little effect. When it was decided to make the opening smaller, the villagers decided to make it into a pig snout. They sold these incense holders as souvenirs and the pig became extremely popular. They now come in other shapes as well.
- Uchiwa, a fan shaped like the picture above.
If you are a fan of Naruto, you might recognize the shape as the symbol of the Uchiha clan. And yes, it was completely deliberate.
Uchiwa are extremely easily obtained in the summer because many companies make their own plastic ones that have advertisements printed on the sides. People hand them out on the streets. They are also really handy when you are in yukata (summer kimono), because it is incredibly hot in a yukata and you can just stick one of these bad boys into you obi (the sash that is tied around your waist).
- Semi, “cicadas”
If you have ever visited Japan in the summer or have ever watched an anime that takes place in the summer, you know the Japanese cicada. They are noisy little buggers. I am from the US, and we have cicadas, but I never really thought about them until I came to Japan.
Cicadas are such a strong symbol of summer in Japan, that people actually are able to differentiate the type of cicada and what time of the day it is based on the cries of the bug. There is a culture of loving what someday must be lost and gone in Japan. The cicada, like the cherry blossom, is a perfect symbol for this feeling of a fleeting moment.
- Obon is a celebration that happens in August. It shares a lot of similarities with celebrations like the Day of the Dead in Mexico.
The main purpose of Obon is to welcome the spirits of the dead. It is believed that the spirits come back to earth during this time, so it is customary to try and make their limited time enjoyable. Most people go to the graves of their loved ones and wash and decorate it.
In many houses people have a little altar to the deceased in the family. They put offerings on the altar. An offering that you might see is a eggplant and a cucumber with chopsticks sticking out of them like legs. These are apparently supposed to be a cow and a horse for the spirits to ride on (it’s a long way between the spirit world and the human world! Did you expect them to walk?).