Summer delicacies and hanabi by the sea

Summer in Japan may bring the damp, rainy season, but it’s also a time for aji-sai (hydrangeas) lining the streets, hanabi (fireworks) and endless festivals.

P36-4Walking through Tokyo in summer, you quickly get used to the cicada’s song, the tinkling of fuurin (wind chimes) in the breeze and the feeling of a pleasantly full stomach. One of my favourite experiences so far was when the rain cleared and everyone headed down to Kamakura for one of the first hanabi displays of the year.

My companions and I start by visiting nearby Enoshima Island to enjoy their specialty, Shirasu-don, for lunch. Shirasu is a delicate “white bait” that is boiled and sun-dried, then served on a bed of warm rice with some grated ginger and negi. As the meal arrives, my mouth waters at the translucent little fish in my bowl. The dish is nice and light, perfect for a long summer day.

P36-8After lunch, we head back to Kamakura. Young girls are adorned in beautiful yukata (summer kimonos) of pink, blue and yellow hues as they walk down roads lined with street food, vendors hollering to entice people to their stalls, the smell of deep-fried cheese sticks and hot potatoes wafting in the air. The delicious offerings continue on the way down to the water, with grilled fish on sticks and mitarashi dango (grilled rice-flour balls, skewered and covered with a sweet soy-sauce glaze) being sold outside the shops.

The sky begins to darken around 7 pm, and everyone shuffles onto the beach to get a seat for the fireworks, as ships line up in the far waters. The first firework fills the sky with the shape of a flower, the smell of smoke lingers in the air and I am overwhelmed with feelings that I am fortunate to be part of this—a tradition of the people and culture that I am surrounded by. At the height of the show there’s a growing pause between each display, and a nearby bar plays music that works against the beat of the fireworks. The timing is perfect. And this is what my first summer in Japan feels like.

Justine Wong is a full-time freelance illustrator living and working in Tokyo, originally from Toronto. She is also the creator of the project “21 Days in Japan: An Illustrative Study on Japanese Cuisine,” where she gained funding to produce 100 paintings of her meals throughout Japan.