Summer Foods in Japan

A taste of Japan's hottest season

By Sleiman Azizi    - 3 min read

Perhaps the most fascinating part of Japan's culinary strength is the enjoyment of eating foods and dishes in the right season. Even summer, with its sweltering humidity, has a place in the Japanese palate.

Few things say summer in Japan better than kakigori. Shaved ice flavoured with sweet condensed milk and syrup, kakigori is a staple of the Japanese festival food stall scene and comes in a bewildering array of flavours. Here's a tip: go for the fluffiest ice. It's like eating snow. Literally.

Macha green tea flavoured kakigori (Photo: Chris 73)
Macha green tea flavoured kakigori (Photo: Chris 73)

No Japanese summer is complete without its harbinger, the ayu sweetfish. Caught in rivers all over the country, ayu are another mainstay of summer festivals but you'll also find them elegantly served in ryokans. Much loved for their sweet flesh, try this tip: eat the whole fish, head and all. It's nice.

Salted and grilled ayu is a summer staple (Photo: Tomomarusan)
Salted and grilled ayu is a summer staple (Photo: Tomomarusan)

Summer comes alive with yakitori. These little skewers of grilled chicken - other meats are available too - are a delight. Famous at festivals, they are also well supported with bars that specialise in them. A good tip is to eat yakitori grilled with binchotan white charcoal. The flavour is just right.

Yakitori, a favourite during Japanese summers (Photo: Ocdp)
Yakitori, a favourite during Japanese summers (Photo: Ocdp)

With a nice cool broth, the thin strands of nagashi somen noodles are a delight to eat in summer. Flowing down along an open bamboo tube, pick off your noodle serving with quick eyes and an even quicker pair of chopsticks. Don't forget the standard tip with noodles in Japan - slurp!

Somen noodles streaming down the bamboo tube (Photo: 顔なし (tasteful_tn))
Somen noodles streaming down the bamboo tube (Photo: 顔なし (tasteful_tn))

Brushed with tare sauce, the succulent flesh of grilled unagi eel is most popular in late July or early August thanks to an Edo period marketing gimmick that saw eel promoted as an energy booster. A tip: eat your unagi from restaurants that have been around for generations. The tare sauce used needs years to develop its rich flavour.

Succulent pieces of unagi over a bed of rice (Photo: Jun Seita)
Succulent pieces of unagi over a bed of rice (Photo: Jun Seita)

Next time you experience the heat, make sure to try some of these foods. Easy to eat and easy to enjoy, they are some of the many staples that make up summer in Japan.

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Sleiman Azizi

Sleiman Azizi @sleiman.azizi

A Japanese Permanent Resident, I drool over proper soba and sushi while Japanese aesthetics ticks all the right boxes for me.With over 100 published articles on Japan as well as 5 English language books written in a traditional Japanese style, I also happen enjoy writing. Funny that...I'm also the Regional Partner for Tokyo, Japan's never ending capital, so if you've anything to say about Tokyo - or Japan in general - don't be shy and contact with me via sleiman.azizi@japantravel.com

Join the discussion

Kim B 6 days ago
So many yummy options!
Elizabeth Scally 6 days ago
I’ve never had such delicious eel. Narita is also a good stopover on the way in and out of the airport there.
Elena Lisina 6 days ago
Umai!!! :P I haven't tried ayu and streaming somen yet! Kakigori is sweet ice?
Sleiman Azizi Author 4 days ago