A Guide To Summer Foods In Japan

Japanese summer foods are dishes that are particular to the season and provide a refreshing relief from the heat. These dishes are often light and cooling, putting them in stark contrast to heavy winter foods.

When it comes to Japanese dishes there are many popular foods that are popular all over the world, such as ramen. However, Japanese food holds a special place in Japan’s culture and often holds symbolic meanings or is associated with a particular season or summer festival.

Summer is no exception and there is a wide range of tasty dishes and treats that are popular with Japanese people in the summer to provide them with relief from the hot summer’s day. Some of these dishes are very well known throughout the world, but others are relatively unknown, although equally as delicious.

In this article, we will take you through some of the best and most popular Japanese summer foods to give you a bit more of an insight into how food changes with the seasons in Japan.

Kakigori

When it comes to the perfect summer treat there is not much better than ice cream, or better yet, shaved ice. Kakigori is Japan’s answer to shaved ice and is the perfect way to easily and quickly cool down in the sticky summer heat.

Kakigori is typically piled high in a cup or bowl and you can add your topping of choice to suit your own taste.

For example, you can choose traditionally sweet topping options such as strawberries or mango. These are either placed whole on top of the shaved iced or mixed in with syrup.

Typically the most popular syrup flavors for kakigori are chocolate, strawberry, lemon, rainbow, and banana.

Jumbo parfait

If you like the idea of a cool sweet treat to rescue you from the summer weather but are not a fan of shaved ice then a jumbo parfait will be perfect for you! 

Just like the name suggests jumbo parfaits are… well, giant! They are the ideal dessert for sharing with friends and for fussy eaters as there are traditionally so many different flavors in the bowl.

There is no set recipe for jumbo parfaits, meaning that it is different every single time you eat it! You can add any fruits and toppings that you like such as bananas, colorful sprinkles, and glazed cherries.

Somen

If sweet treats are not for you then there is no need to worry as Japanese cuisine also has a variety of cold savory dishes such as somen. Somen can easily be found all over Japan in the summer.

Somen is a bowl of cold noodles that are made from wheat flour. The dish is also always served with a small bowl of soup on the side so that you can dip your noodles in a flavorsome sauce. 

So, if you are in the mood for something more filling, or are simply a massive noodle fan but it is too hot for a traditional bowl of ramen, somen is a fantastic way to fill your belly without getting too hot.

Ayu

Ayu is another summertime dish that is very popular in Japan and is perfect for savory snack enthusiasts. This dish is said to taste very similar to watermelon, although you may not believe it when you see it out on the streets being sold.

Ayu is actually is a street food that is made from grilled ayu (also known as sweetfish). The ayu tastes sweeter than you may initially assume, making them a happy medium between salty and sweet. 

This dish is particularly popular at festivals and carnivals as it can be eaten on the go. 

Yakitori

If you are running around the city in the summer or having a walk around a local neighborhood then grabbing a yakitori is a fantastic way to ensure that you are kept fed and happy. 

Yakitori is actually served in Japan all throughout the year but it is often associated with summertime as it is always served at summer matsuri

Yakitori is a skewer of grilled chicken, but there are often other versions available that include other meats and vegetables. This snack is the perfect addition to a cold drink on a hot summer evening. 

For this reason, they are very popular around drinking establishments and festivals, where you can spot a number of small stands selling yakitori.

Cold Tanuki Udon

If you are not in the mood to eat your summer food on the go then a cold bowl of udon noodles is the perfect meal to indulge in a restaurant in the summer. 

Although udon bowls are typically served warm, cold udon has become a popular dish in the hot months. This dish is not dissimilar from somen but it uses thicker noodles (made from wheat flour).

There are also a number of different toppings that are added to the noodles to bring flavor to the dish. 

The toppings can include cucumbers, seaweed, a mix of vegetables, and small pieces of fried tempura batter. You can mix and match the toppings to suit your own palette.

Takoyaki

Takoyaki is perhaps one of the most loved dishes in Japan. Although the name itself actually just means “octopus” there is a small piece of octopus encased in batter that has been fried, giving the dish the perfect soft, crunchy, and chewy texture.

Because these little balls are so easy to eat and are perfectly bite-sized, they are very popular at food stalls and at festivals.

Because the takoyaki balls are quite light and not too heavy or hearty they are very popular in the summer months, especially as more and more people are outside and on the move rather than tucked away in a restaurant.

Kuzumochi

Similar to jelly, kuzumochi is actually a form of mochi. This treat is both light and sweet, allowing you to satisfy your sweet cravings without the guilt, and without the stomach ache! There are several parts to this dish.

The first component is mochi, which is made using starch flour as well as the kudzu plant (the root). This is then topped with kinako, which is a powder made from roasted soybeans, as well as black honey, which is what gives the dish its signature sweet flavor.

Kuzumochi is a fantastic option for a dessert if you are a vegetarian or gluten-free.

Rei Shabu

Rei Shabu is another dish that has been adapted for the hotter months. Here you have the summer version of shabu-shabu, another very popular dish in Japan.

Rei Shabu does not present the meat with a vat of steaming broth but is actually prepared in the same way that you could prepare a meat salad.

The meat will come cold, but rest assured that it has been cooked beforehand so that there is no risk of food poisoning.

All of the additional vegetables, however, will be served raw. Because every element of this dish is served cold, and nothing is missing, it is just as filling as shabu-shabu but will allow you to enjoy the taste of the meat and vegetables without overheating. This allows you to enjoy a great dish despite the weather.

Making Japanese Summer Treats

MT Lee
My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.