Through the memories of summers / Lisa Kawai July 28 2014

Japanese people eagerly wait to hear the official announcement of "the end of rainy season" called "Tsuyu-Ake" in July. I'm not personally a big fan of the moist, humid, grumpy "Tsuyu" (rainy season in Japanese) that usually starts in June right after the fresh green season of May except for seeing plants and flowers decorated beautifully with raindrops. So I was thrilled to hear that the season of "Tsuyu" was finally over last week! The announcement came 16 days later than last year and is officially an exciting beginning of the summer for us here again.  
- Lisa Kawai
(Hydrangeas now faded with sunlight and turn into antique colors...another round of prettiness)
A long season of "Tsuyu" makes people burst into enjoying summer when it finally arrives. It is my favorite time of the year that brings special feelings which are so close to my heart. It's emotional, intense, indulging and nostalgic all at the same time. It's the season of memories both in remembering and creating.

I love all signs of summer that are only enjoyable this time of the year. The bright sunlight that reminds me of California atmosphere where I spent my teenage days. Vivid and lively summer scenes such as colors of the sky, local festivals, and seasonal food. They all bring back flashes of memories from summers I've spent in the past. Or maybe summer for me is very intimate with my birthday in July reflecting through last days of passing age and envisioning what's to come next.
 
SIX SEGMENTS OF SUMMER
In Japan, each season in traditional Japanese calendar is divided into six segments reflecting subtle transformations of the seasons. Each segment has distinctive foods, events, cultural rituals and entertainment capturing the most of that moment of the year.

For example, from around July 7th to 21st, we are in the 5th segment of summer called "小暑" - "Shousho". During this segment the rainy season ends and the peak of summer starts. Seasonal vegetables such as tomato, cucumber, corn, and okura can be best enjoyed during this time.
 
On July 7th, people enjoy looking up on the night sky in hope for witnessing the Milky Way in pure darkness (especially clear after all the rain from Tsuyu). Children make wishes to the stars and so do adults with their dreams.
 
At home my husband prepped a little dinner giving homage to the day with "star" salad using sliced okura in star shape and Milky Way pasta with tomato and edamame best in season!

These seasonal events that are closely tied to enjoy the beauty of nature is one of my favorite aspect of living in Japan.
 
BEST SUMMER FOOD!
This brings me to my next summer happiness - food associated with the season! The dishes are prepared to cool our body on hot days and nights. They are sprinkled with fresh harvest which make them iconic to the season. Here are some dishes I've been enjoying during the summer season.
 
Cold soba noodle. It's always simple and perfect even when we lose appetite on the hottest days.
Boiled edamame at home with a cold beer on the weekend.
And corn! Simply boil them, use them in salad, steam with rice, make them into tempura. Summer is definitely the sweetest time to enjoy them.
COOLING DOWN
Japanese ways of living "with" the season bring another interesting summer culture. It's the concept of cooling off. Yes we do use air conditioning and drink iced beverages to physically cool us down but people also "cool down" in other ways using tricks of imagination. "Fuu-rin" is a little blown glass that hangs by the window. (You can see an illustration of Fuu-rin on the second image on this post to get an idea.) It has a small glass ball inside which swings with the wind and makes a pretty sound similar to a triangle instrument. It is similar to the sound of gently shaking an iced tea glass with ice cubes inside. The wind randomly plays that sound and it makes people feel little cooler.
 
Another example speaks to people through a visual effect - water dropping into a little pool of water and creating ripples on the surface in a Japanese garden. This also brings the sound effect of the random water drop. It might not physically lower your body temperature but don't you feel little bit cooler by looking at this photo below?
Although many of these ideas are often seen in traditional houses and not very common in modern households, they are beautiful and reflect the Japanese ways of "living with the nature" and appreciating them.
 
These cues of the season always bring summer memories I have collected in the past. My childhood in Japan, days at the California beach, my college years in Tokyo including last few years spent with my husband here.
 
For me everything about summer is a trigger to remember the collection of beautiful moments and feelings in life and I hope I can continue to create more of them this summer. I wish you enjoy yours too!
 
Lisa