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Japan’s Summer Foods

Summer in Japan is a great time to sample the many 夏の旬 (natsu no shun, summer seasonal) foods!

By 3 min read

Anyone who has lived in Japan has noticed the sharp contrast in seasons and the celebration of those distinctions. One of the many Japanese words related to seasons, 旬 (shun), describes the peak period of produce, fish and other food in Japan. Each food has its own “shun,” so certain dishes are more prevalent during a particular season.

Since summer is in full swing, we’ll take a look at some of the 夏の旬 (natsu no shun, or summer seasonal) foods of Japan.

Summer Vegetables

Goya Chanpuru is an Okinawan specialty.

Maximize the most out of the vegetables in season by making some traditional summer dishes. Goya chanpuru (ゴーヤチャンプルー), for example, is a famous dish from Okinawa which is a combination of goya (bitter melon), luncheon meat and other vegetables.

While summer in Japan may be sweltering, one of the most exciting events of the season would be attending summer festivals in the different cities around the country. Roasted corn on the cob slathered in butter is popular at many festivals in Japan.

For a more refreshing dish, try pairing your order of cold soba noodles with freshly fried eggplant tempura. If you find yourself at an izakaya or feel like drinking at home, boil some edamame and sprinkle it with salt to compliment your drink of choice.

Item Kanji Reading Kana Reading Romaji Reading
Bell pepper ビーマン piman
Bitter melon/Goya ゴーヤー goya
Corn トウモロコシ toumorokoshi
Cucumber きゅうり きゅうり kyuuri
Edamame 枝豆 えだまめ edamame
Lettuce レタス letasu
Myoga/Japanese ginger 茗荷 みょうが myouga
Okra オクラ okura
Shiso 紫蘇 しそ shiso
Tomato トマト tomato

Summer Fruits

Umeshu, a refreshing drink made in summer and enjoyed in winter.

Satisfy your sweet tooth with a plate filled with the different seasonal fruit that is as sweet as candy. During the summer, a handful of Japanese people begin to prepare their plum liquor or 梅酒 (umeshu) by steeping plum inside a glass jar, filling it with sugar and some white liquor. 

Bringing a whole watermelon (スイカ) to the beach is also a common practice in the summer. Suikawari (Watermelon Splitting) is a traditional Japanese game seen at beaches and school festivals. The objective of the game is to slice the watermelon while blindfolded.

Aside from enjoying the fruit on its own, many cafes and ice cream brands also release limited summer flavors for each of their products. Some can come in the form of yogurt drinks, shakes and candy.

Item Kanji Reading Kana Reading Romaji Reading
Chinese Plum/Japanese Apricot 梅/梅干 うめ/うめぼし ume/umeboshi
Mango マンゴー mango
Muskmelon メロン meron
Peach もも momo
Pineapple パインアップル painappuru
Watermelon 西瓜 スイカ suica
Yuzu ゆず yuzu

Summer Seafood

Unadon is thought to fight summer fatigue.

Eating unagi (freshwater eel) is a tradition in late July on a day called 土用の丑の日 (doyo no ushi no hi). Restaurants and even convenience stores have special eel dishes and obento around this day. Eating unagi is believed to replenish lost nutrients from sweating in the summer heat. 

Unfortunately, freshwater eel is not sustainable and has become an endangered species in recent years. So, besides the moral dilemmas of eating an endangered animal, the price for unagi has also soared. An alternative is anago or salt-water eels. 

Ayu (sweetfish) is another popular festival food that you’ll notice around summer. The whole fish is served with a barbecue stick poking out of it. Ayu usually is coated with a thin layer of salt that complements the fish’s naturally sweet flavor.

Item Kanji Reading Kana Reading Romaji Reading
Eel うなぎ unagi
Flounder かれい karei
Horse mackerel あじ aji
Sardine いわし iwashi
Sea bass すずき suzuki
Marlin 旗魚 かじきまぐろ kajikimaguro
Sea urchin 雲丹 うに uni
Sweetfish あゆ ayu

While we may have only scratched the surface with the variety of dishes you can enjoy in the summer, we hope that it gave you some ideas for recipes. By buying foods in season, you can save money, enjoy their peak flavor and maybe even survive Japan’s hot summer weather.

What do you think? What are your favorite summer foods? Let us know in the comments!

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