Because our in-person school visits have been cancelled for the remainder of 2019-20 school year, we are adding resources to our website so that children and adults can access from home.
August is the hottest month of summer in Japan, but in the old calendar, which is about a month ahead of the Gregorian calendar adopted in the Meiji era, it was already autumn. The old name for August is Hazuki. “Ha” means leaves. It meant the month when the leaves change colors and fall off the trees.
Obon is the Japanese Buddhist Festival to celebrate the spirits of one’s ancestors. Their spirits come home on August 13th and go back on the 15th. Some parts of Japan, like Tokyo, follow the new calendar and celebrate it in July, but most of Japan celebrates it in August.
Cucumber horses and eggplant oxen are the traditional decorations. It is said that the spirits ride the horses to come home and go back on the eggplant oxen. To welcome spirits and see them off safely, ogara, stems of the hemp plant, are burnt in an earthenware plate at the front door steps. Offerings are set up on the altar for spirits.
Obon is also a time for family reunions. This is the busiest travel time in Japan. People travel to visit their hometowns to see family and visit ancestors’ graves. Villages and towns often have festivals during Obon. Bon Odori dances and hanabi taikai (fireworks displays) are the most popular. It is a fun time for adults and children, and the whole family can enjoy festival games and food stands. Unfortunately, the festivals are mostly canceled because of COVID 19, so this year most people will stay home during the Obon holidays.
Yukata is a cotton casual kimono for summer. People wear them at the festivals, especially at Bon Odori. Everyone can join and dance. Dancers often wear yukata with the same pattern, like uniforms, for Bon Odori. Jimbei are casual kimono-style tops and pants that are also worn at festivals and in the summer.
Japan enjoys a lot of seasonal food. Here are a couple of summer favorites.
You can also enjoy it at home with these fun machines.
Kakigori（かき氷): Japanese style shaved ice
Shaved ice is a favorite summertime sweet. The ice is shaved very finely and flavored with all kinds of syrup, anko(sweet azuki bean paste), and other toppings.
You can buy a kakigori maker and make it at home too. It is a lot of fun.
Origami: Paper crane
This is probably the most known origami model in the world. The crane is an auspicious bird in Japan. The legend says it lives for a thousand years. It is a symbol of longevity. This traditional origami model has been folded for hundreds of years. There are many origami paper crane tutorials online. This is an easy one to follow. It is challenging, but worth a try.
In 1945, the USA dropped two atomic bombs on two cities in Japan which killed 129,000-226,000 people, mostly civilians. These are the only uses of nuclear weapons in armed conflicts. The bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6 and Nagasaki on August 9. This year is the 75th year since the bombs were dropped.
The story of “One Thousand Cranes” became famous to the world by the book called, “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes” by Eleanor Coerr. The book is based on the true story of a girl called Sadako Sasaki.
Sadako Sasaki was two years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. She developed leukemia when she was 11 years old. She started to fold one thousand cranes wishing for better health, but she died at age 12. After her death, Sasaki's friends and schoolmates collected donations from all over Japan to build a memorial to her and all of the children who had died from the effects of the atomic bomb.
In 1958, a statue of Sasaki holding a golden crane was unveiled in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Strings of a thousand cranes were sent from all over the world, surrounding the monument. The story of Sadako has come to symbolize the hope that no child will ever again be killed by an atomic bomb. At the bottom of this statue, there is a plaque that reads "This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace in the world."
To wish for eternal peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons, people fold one thousand cranes and send them to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They are displayed at the peace memorials in both cities.
July in Japan is the beginning of summer. After the rainy season, it gets hot. Japanese school does not startsummer vacation until July 22, Marine Day, which is the day the beaches open. The old name of the month is fuzuki or fumizuki, which means the month of literacy.
Tanabata 七夕 Star Festival
The seventh day of the seventh month is the Tanabata festival, also called the star festival. Tanabata is the biggest festival in July.
The festival originated in China, where women wished that their weaving and sewing skills would improve with needles with five color strings.
In Japan, it was combined with the original Japanese custom, and became an official court event in the Heian Period. By the Edo period, ordinary people started celebrating the festival by putting bamboo trees on the roof with paper decorations.
Nowadays, people write a wish on long pieces of paper and hang them on to the bamboo branches along with other paper decorations. Some cities like Sendai are famous for celebrating this festival with elaborate decorations.
The story of the two stars is a love story. Orihime, a weaver (Vega) who is a daughter of the emperor of the sky, and Hikoboshi, a cow herder (Altair), were in love and got married, but they were so happy together, they forgot about their work. The emperor became enraged and separated them on each side of the milky way. They were only allowed to meet once in a year on the seventh night of the seventh month. Watch the Tanabata story video.
How to make Tanabata decorations:
Cut origami or construction colored paper in a rectangle big enough to write your wish. Punch a hole on top and use string to tie them on bamboo branches.
Summer Vacation(夏休み, natsu yasumi)
The Japanese school year starts in April and ends in March. The summer vacation is usually from July 21 until August 31. Because it is in the middle of the school year, children get homework and projects they have to work on during the vacation.
Here is an easy project often given to elementary school students. Grow a plant from a seed, like a sunflower or morning glory, and keep a plant journal to see how the plant grows every day.
Things you need:
Put soil in your container, plant a seed, water and watch it grow. If you want to try something different, cut a cherry tomato in half and plant it.
Enjoy Your Summer!
Japan in the Schools
The Japan in the Schools (JIS) program, started in 1997, is a unique program that brings Japanese education into classrooms in Western PA. A wide variety of topics are covered in visits to local schools. Some topics include Japan today, Japanese history, language, culture, and origami. Download the curriculum flyer[PDF] for more information.
Volunteers of the JIS program respond to outreach requests from elementary, middle, and secondary schools, libraries,and other community partners. Authentic Japanese materials are used as teaching aids. This unique experience broadens a student's view of the world and the cultures in it.
Request a visit!
Requesting a school visit is easy! Fill out this simple request form and Katsuko Shellhammer will coordinate the details of the visit.
Volunteer for the JIS!
Volunteers are the most essential part of the JIS. Without the help of dedicated and passionate volunteers, this program would not exist. All ages and nationalities are welcomed. The only requirement is a passion for Japan. Sign up today!