Congratulations everyone — we made it through another Japanese winter!
Spring was rather brief this year, no sooner had the chill begun to thaw than in a mere matter of days the humidity and heat of summer seemed to descend upon Kansai once again. Thankfully, in a city as varied as Osaka, there are plenty of things to see and do during the hot summer nights.
Here are six unforgettable sights and sounds of an Osakan summer you shouldn’t miss this year!
1) Kirin Garden, Umeda
Beer gardens are hardly phenomena unique to Osaka, especially when they’re backed by one of Japan’s biggest breweries.
However, since 2014 these outdoor drinking fests have been offering a new item on the menu, one that will — depending on your personal palette — either delight or disgust: frozen beer cocktails.
I’m not sure they might be called in the U.S., but I remember enjoying a “slush puppy” drink every time I went to the local bowling alley in the summer back in Scotland. A slush puppy was a drink made of crushed ice infused with fruit-flavored syrup. Not too dissimilar, perhaps, from the Japanese shaved-ice kakigori.
Now, these beer gardens are offering slush puppies (or kakigori) for adults. These cocktails combine crushed ice, beer and a variety of fruit flavors. My personal favorites are the grapefruit and tomato beer cocktails, but I recommend you try a variety to find your favorite. As you with all beer gardens in summer, these also offer a great selection of food but tend to fill up very quickly so be sure to book ahead, especially if you are going in a big group.
- Umeda, Tennoji and various other locations. Nightly.
2) Tenjin Matsuri, Tenmangu Shrine
No trip to Osaka in the summertime is complete without taking in the legendary Tenjin Matsuri — ranked as one of the three great festivals of Japan (along with the Gion and the Kanda matsuris. This 1,ooo-year-old parade of boats, fireworks, song and dance also has food stalls, parades, displays and ceremonies happening across the city every year on July 24 and 25.
The events culminate in a riverboat procession followed by an amazing hanabi, or fireworks, display. The main fireworks display kicks off at around 7 p.m. but locals who are in the know usually head over earlier in the afternoon, not just to soak up the atmosphere, but more importantly to stake out a good spot overlooking the river from which to view the pyrotechnics.
- Osaka Tenmangu Shrine. July 24 & 25, 2017.
3) Gion Matsuri, Kyoto
A couple weeks before the Tenjin Matsuri, Kansai’s other cultural and tourism hub, Kyoto, plays host to its own signature event: the Gion Matsuri.
The vibe at each of these two festivals is perhaps indicative of the differences between these two wonderful cities. While Tenjin takes on a certain street party quality, the Gion Matsuri — fascinating and enticing to tourists foreign and Japanese alike due to its location in Kyoto’s famous geisha district — is a little more organized and regimented. The main focus of the event is the two street parades, held one week apart in mid-July. These processions and the floats that take part in them are so massive and require such levels of manpower, that the entire Gion district is typically closed to traffic for three days. This is a great night out filled with cultural experiences and quite possibly the best time of year to visit Kyoto!
- Gion district, Kyoto. July 1-31, 2017, with the main parades on July 17 & 24.
4) Dotonbori Boat Cruise
Cruises along the Dotonbori, the legendary canal that runs right through the heart of Osaka, are actually an all-year round occurrence. However, they are probably best enjoyed in the summer evenings, as the cool, gentle breeze emanating from the water takes the edge of the stifling daytime summer heat. There are a variety of cruising options available depending on what type of entertainment you’re after.
Party boats, reminiscent of the “booze cruises” that are popular in certain tourist venues in southern Europe and the U.S., offer dance music, drinks and a nightclub-type atmosphere.
If you prefer something a little more sedate, but still musical, then how about a boat with its own private brass band!
Of course, if you want to keep it simple, then regular tour boats that simply give you a 30-40 minute “no frills” ride along the river are also available.
- Dotonbori River area, Osaka. Nightly.
5) Summer Sonic 2017, Maishima Sonic Park
Summer Sonic has established itself as one of Japan’s premier outdoor music festivals. For one weekend in August, it brings it’s brand of high-energy, mainstream pop, rock and dance to both Tokyo and Osaka.
Summer Sonic has hosted an eclectic mix of musicians since it debuted back in 2000. In previous years, the likes of Jay-Z, Coldplay and Stevie Wonder have headlined the event. This year looks no different, with Foo Fighters, Calvin Harris, Sum 41, Black Eyed Peas, Liam Gallagher and even PikoTaro already confirmed for Osaka’s leg of the event (Aug. 19 & 20). More acts are still to be announced. Tickets (¥14,000-25,000) and more information available here.
- Maishima Sports Island, Osaka. Aug. 19 & 20, from 11. a.m.
6) Belgian Beer Festival, Meriken Park Kobe
Toward the end of summer, what better way to wind down for autumn than with a few cold European-style beers in the splendid surroundings of Kobe’s Meriken Park, in the Kobe Harbor district. Meriken Park is about 40 minutes by train from Osaka.
The Belgian Beer Weekend offers hundreds of different brews from big brands to small craft breweries to sample to at your leisure.The event operates on a cashless system, whereby you buy tokens from a stall and then redeem these for food. These tokens are non-refundable, so be sure to buy only what you need for the event.
- Meriken Park, Kobe. Aug. 30-Sep 1 (4-10 p.m.) & Sep. 2 & 3 (11 a.m.-10 p.m.).
There’s no shortage of distractions available for one and all in and around Osaka this summer — so get out there and enjoy yourself!
Have we missed your favorite summertime event in the region? Let us know in the comments!