18 June 2024

Sunlit Geshi: Observing Japan's Summer Solstice

kmっっっっk.png__PID:d251e61c-5d1d-413b-be64-83421d83fabe

As the longest day of the year approaches in Japan, geshi, or the summer solstice, invites quiet reflection of the upcoming hot season.
While this day may not feature the widespread practices and customs seen during its winter counterpart, toji, it marks a distinctive moment in the rhythm of Japanese seasons.

This time of year, when the sun reaches its peak, offers a unique lens through which to experience the subtleties of Japanese culture and its connection with nature. In this blog, we'll take a look at how geshi is observed, with special focus on how different regions welcome this day with various culinary traditions.

Contents

  • The Day of Maximum Light
  • A Quiet Observance: The Subtle Celebration of Geshi
  • Seasonal Delights: Culinary Traditions of Geshi 

The Day of Maximum Light

The above image is for illustrative purposes only.

Geshi typically arrives around June 21st each year, marking the longest day in the Northern Hemisphere. However, its exact date can slightly vary, landing anywhere from June 20th to June 22nd, a subtle reminder of Earth's intricate dance around the Sun.

The term "geshi" comes from one of the 24 solar terms of the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar, significantly influencing the Japanese calendar and agricultural practices. While geshi is commonly celebrated on June 21st as the day with the longest daylight hours of the year, it traditionally refers to a period extending about two weeks after this date. In Japan, it is generally understood as the beginning of the summer solstice period.

As the sun reaches its highest point in the sky during this time, bathing us in maximum daylight, it marks the beginning of a long, hot summer. This period makes us acutely aware that there are still a couple of months to go before the shorter, cooler days of autumn arrive.

A Quiet Observance: The Subtle Celebrations of Geshi 

D06_panel_geshisai.png__PID:86ec5c2f-7234-4a68-8ff5-f17b1898e5f5

The above image is for illustrative purposes only. ©二見興玉神社

Unlike toji, which is marked by widely recognized customs such as the aromatic yuzu bath, geshi passes with a more understated presence in Japan. However, this does not mean that it goes unnoticed.

At Futami Okitama Shrine in Mie Prefecture, the Geshi-sai, or midsummer festival, takes place on the day of the summer solstice. Participants wade into Ise Bay at sunrise, a spectacle enhanced as the sun ascends between the iconic Meoto Iwa, translating to “couple’s rock.” This annual event focuses on the cleansing of mind and body, embracing the natural energy of the sun on the longest day of the year.

However, for many, this seasonal event is celebrated through quieter, more personal observances. Families might take a moment to enjoy the extra daylight with a leisurely walk or a special meal prepared using seasonal ingredients. Next, let's take a look at some local delicacies enjoyed this time of year.

Seasonal Delights: Culinary Traditions of Geshi

The observance of geshi is beautifully reflected in regional culinary traditions that celebrate the peak of summer. Each embraces the belief in either finding relief from the summer heat or as an offering to wish for a good harvest.

Winter Melon: Though called winter melon, it actually thrives in summer. Its name stems from its ability to be stored in cool, dark places and stay fresh until winter. Consisting mostly of water (about 95%), it's low in calories and has a refreshing taste, making it ideal for summer. Rich in potassium and containing vitamin C, winter melon supports healthy skin, proving a steadfast ally during the warmer months.

Minazuki: The sweet treat known as minazuki, which literally translates to "water month," is a traditional Japanese confection enjoyed during geshi. This delicacy is a triangle-shaped sweet made of rice flour topped with red beans and is said to represent ice used to cool down in the old days.

Minazuki starts appearing in storefronts across Japan around early June, announcing the arrival of summer. In Kyoto, this traditional treat takes on special significance as it is savored during the Nagoshi no Harae ceremony on June 30th, where it's consumed to wish for health and well-being in the latter half of the year.

Octopus: In Osaka, eating octopus during geshi has deep roots, perfectly timed with the rice planting season. This tradition sprouts from a wish for the crops to take hold as firmly as an octopus' tentacles. It's also believed that octopus, rich in taurine and zinc, helps recover from the exhaustion of planting and wards off summer fatigue—making this custom as practical as it is symbolic. It can be enjoyed in various forms, from sashimi to grilled dishes, each preparation highlighting its freshness and flavor.

From the long days of geshi, Japan’s summer gracefully transitions into hangesho, beginning eleven days after the summer solstice. This period marks a crucial phase in agriculture and a time for gratitude. As we enter the true heart of summer, the festivities of Tanabata on July 7th await, inviting us to look to the night skies and enjoy a story woven among the stars.

Comments