Somewhere up my family tree, someone had to be a kappa. I may not have inherited the reptilian skin or the bald spot of this mythical Japanese creature, but I did receive the voracious appetite for cucumbers. Unlike me, though, kappa probably didn’t have to pay for their own cucumbers.
Luckily, at the supermarket last week, the magic of shun and half-priced summer vegetables placated the stingy, cucumber-loving blood of the kappa ancestors running through my veins.
Anyone who has lived a year or more in Japan has noticed the sharp contrast in seasons and the celebration of those contrasts. One of the many Japanese words related to seasons, shun (旬) describes the peak period of produce, fish, and other food in Japan. Each food has its own “shun,” and this may explain why certain dishes are more popular during a certain season.
According to a booklet on “shun” by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, the time period when a certain food is in season can differ slightly based on the area but can roughly be broken down by season. Besides being annual reminders of the change in season, “shun” foods tend to taste better and are cheaper. According to the Japan Clinic Co. website, foods eaten in season will also have more nutrients than those eaten out of season.
Summer is in full swing in Tokyo, humidity and all, so in this article we’ll take a look at some of the 夏の旬 (natsu no shun, summer seasonal) foods of Japan as listed on the website Shun no Shokuzai Calendar and the Kikkoman official site.
Summer Foods in Japan (June ~ August)
Bell pepper (ビーマン)
Bitter melon/Goya (ゴーヤー)
Lettuce (レタス, April to August)
Myoga/Japanese ginger (みょうが)
Okra (オクラ, June through September)
Shiso (しそ, June through September）
Chinese Plum/Japanese Apricot (うめ・うめぼし, June through July)
Muskmelon (メロン, May through August)
Peach (もも, July through August)
Yuzu (ゆず, July through August)
Eel (うなぎ, July)
Horse mackerel (あじ, May through July)
Sardine (いわし, June through October)
Sea bass (すずき)
Sea urchin (ウニ, May through August)
By buying foods in season, you can save money, enjoy their peak flavor and increase your nutrient intake. Also, if you visit Japanese restaurants during summer, you can try seasonal dishes made using these foods.
In fact, eating eel is a tradition in late July on a day called 土用の丑の日 (doyō no ushi no hi). Restaurants and even convenience stores have special eel dishes and obento around this day.
On a similar note, the Aichi Japan Agricultural Cooperative declared April 19 “Good Cucumber Day.” The kappa inside me is happy but will be sending a letter to the organization about moving this day to summer.
What foods remind you of summer in Japan?