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July 2020

Cultural Article

The Sounds That Remind Japanese People of Summer

by Daisuke Takagi

Here comes a hot summer! By the way, what kinds of sounds make you feel like summer is coming? When I talked with my wife about this topic, three typical sounds that remind Japanese people of summer came up.

An impressive display of fireworks choreographed to Mozart's Marriage of Figaro Overture at the Nagano

Ebisko Fireworks Festival

The first is the sound of fireworks. When speaking of fireworks during this time of year in the United States, many American people may think of the Fourth of July rather than summer itself. In Japan, fireworks festivals take place in almost every region of the country throughout the summer every year. The largest fireworks festival in Japan is held in Nagano Prefecture, where 40,000 fireworks are displayed over the lake. Unfortunately, almost all of large fireworks festivals were or will be canceled in 2020 due to the impact of COVID-19, but I believe we will see greater firework shows next year.

Bug catching, like in the video above, is a popular pastime for kids in Japan. It was even the inspiration for Pokemon, which has taken the world by storm.

The second sound is the buzzing of cicadas. In Japan, when summer arrives cicadas are terribly noisy, shrilling all day from morning till night, and are almost everywhere. Most Japanese, especially men, likely have caught cicadas or collected cicada shells during their childhood. There are about 30 kinds of cicadas in Japan, but only about 10 of them are the ones we can often hear chirping. I came to the U.S. two years ago, but I very rarely hear them. It seems that there are cicadas in the United States, but they’re often in forests away from people.

Furin, or Japanese wind chimes, are carefully hand blown and hand painted, and were traditionally purposefully crafted with uneven holes. By doing so, the chime make a different sound based on where the bell hits the glass opening.

The third quintessential sound of summer are the song of wind chimes. Japanese people have felt a coolness from hearing the sound of wind chimes and been able to withstand the hot and humid summers in Japan from the time before there was air conditioning. Therefore, even in modern times, listening to the sound of wind chimes reminds us of summer. I don't know when we started hanging wind chimes in our houses, but it is said that those that were used to divine fortunes in China were introduced to Japan, and even now in Japan they are used as charms against evil. Japanese wind chimes are generally made of glass, but the glass manufacturing method was introduced from the Netherlands in the 18th century, and became popular in the late Edo era (19th century), spreading throughout Japan. Iron wind chimes are also traditionally made in some areas. If the day comes when the current situation improves and you can travel to Japan, would you like to bring back wind chimes as souvenirs (as you can not bring back fireworks and cicadas) and feel the summer of Japan?

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