Summer in Tokyo: A Cheapo’s Guide to Making the Most of the Summer Sun

Jack Heslehurst
Summer in Tokyo
Photo by Michael Rhys used under CC

We won’t lie to you—summer in Tokyo can be pretty intense. As temperatures soar and the humidity reaches rainforest levels, the city is united in its one goal: staying cool. Luckily, this can be achieved in a number of ways. Some choose the ice-cold beers, steady supply of ice cream and minimal movement option. Others embrace the season, taking advantage of the myriad festivals and events that litter the city.

Whatever your tactics, we’ve got you covered with our guide to summer in Tokyo. What to wear, what to eat and drink, the best festivals and events, all right here.

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From June to September, average temperatures hover at around 25°C (77℉). Averages, however, hide the often far more uncomfortable (and sticky) truth. If you’re in Tokyo for August or September, average temperatures are solidly in the upper 20s and it’s not uncommon for the 30°C mark to be broken. It’s not just the heat either, the humidity is arguably the real killer. At the height of summer, humidity levels can approach an unforgiving 80 percent. Bottom line: it’s really hot.

Rain, however, can be a partial relief. June and September are particularly wet, though the whole season does see a significant amount of rainfall. Typically, summer rain comes in short, sharp bursts rather than a slow drizzle, giving everyone a much-needed cold shower and simultaneously breaking the humidity for a while. Bliss.

Dealing with the heat

It may be tempting to waste the summer indoors, cowering underneath the air conditioning unit. But we won’t let you. We’ve devised a few tricks over the years for beating the heat.

Generally, make sure you’re wearing light, breathable clothing and if you’re going to be out all day, it may be a good idea to take a spare t-shirt or something with you. Take advantage of the free promotional hand fans that are given out on the streets and don’t stop fanning until your wrist aches. Most important of all—drink a lot (I mean a lot) of water.

Summer food and drink

Summer in Tokyo
Photo by kanegen used under CC

Refreshment is the name of the game when it comes to both food and drink in the summer. And what could be more refreshing than ice? That’s right, Japan’s most persistent summer food is ice, shaved and drenched in flavored syrup and labeled kakigori. This cheap treat can be picked up almost everywhere in the summer months and each one is as refreshing as the last.

Living off kakigori alone probably isn’t the best idea though. Other good food options for the summer include somen noodles, served cold (and again pretty easy to find), as well as the street food (yakitori, takoyaki, yakisoba, etc.) you’ll find at all the summer events and festivals. This stuff is cheap and you can enjoy it out in the open instead of in a sweaty dining room.

As for drinking, two words: beer gardens. Al fresco drinking is the stuff of deepest winter fantasies and Tokyo is well equipped to turn dreams into reality. On rooftops, in parks, at shines, they pop everywhere and rarely disappoint. There’s even an option for the super cheapos among you.

Summer events and festivals

Fireworks festivals

Summer in Tokyo
Photo by megawheel360 used under CC

Fireworks (hanabi) festivals are a summer institution in Japan, events that give everyone the opportunity to don their yukata, eat some street food and gaze at the sky for an hour. At the larger festivals, the Sumidagawa Festival, for example, some people make a whole day of it, despite the main event only coming to life in the evening. The displays are always impressive and can last upwards of an hour, though it’s the party atmosphere and sense of occasion that tends to make the lasting impression.

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Firefly-viewing and festivals

Summer in Tokyo
Photo by Ching Ching Tsui used under CC

In June, just as the summer is revving up, a natural phenomenon that never fails to astound sparks into life—the fireflies. Although urban Tokyo isn’t the greatest place to see the glowing bugs, there is still a good few places where you can check them out.

Summer Sonic

Summer in Tokyo
Photo by monta used under CC

Summer Sonic has quickly become Japan’s premier rock festival—a two- or three-day event that pulls in some of Japan and the world’s top acts and always lively crowds. For all the info on this year’s event, take a look here.

Ueno Summer Festival

Summer in Tokyo
Photo by takuma mori used under CC

The Ueno Summer Festival lasts for a mammoth five weeks between July and August every year. Consisting of all kinds of special performances and events, the festival has something for everyone. The highlight of proceedings is always the colorful Ueno Natsu Matsuri Parade, which features 38 different teams of dancers and is not to be missed.

There’s more…

With so much going on in the summer, we couldn’t possibly list it all here. Do check the Tokyo Cheapo events page, however, where you’ll find detailed listings of absolutely everything that’s worth checking out in the city.

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