Summer Resorts

  • Peter Barakan


    Born in London in 1951, Peter earned a degree in Japanese from the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). An expert on diverse forms of popular music, Peter is also a well-known TV and radio presenter. He has lived in Japan for 40 years and has a deep understanding of the language and culture.

  • Matt Alt


    Born in Washington D.C. in 1973, Matt's interest in Japan was kindled by robot toys in his childhood. He worked as a translator for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office before co-founding a company that produces English versions of Japanese comics and video games. He also writes extensively about cultural trends including yokai, ninja, emoji, and more.

  • Hiroyuki Yasujima

    Main guest

    Hiroyuki Yasujima is a professor in the faculty of tourism and community studies at Atomi University. He conducts research on summer resorts and other resort locations. Originally an engineer, Yasujima became interested in resorts after being involved in a project that required installing power lines. Already curious about what makes landscapes beautiful, the project turned his interest into a fascination with perceptions of scenery. In order to understand their roots and history, Yasujima has spent over 30 years visiting tourist resorts around the world.


August 7, 2018

Summer Resorts

*You will leave the NHK website.

To say summers in major Japanese cities are hot is an understatement. As this program airs in 2018, days in Kyoto are inching toward 40 degrees Celsius, and Tokyo isn't far behind. For many people living in these cities, one way to beat the heat, at least temporarily, is to escape to one of Japan's summer resort towns.

These resorts, which dot the country, are generally located well above sea level and offer not only more agreeable temperatures, but plenty of summer leisure activities as well. On this edition of Japanology Plus, we take a look at the history and features of these summer resorts.

Host Peter Barakan joins expert guest Hiroyuki Yasujima, a professor of tourism and community studies, in Karuizawa, one of the nation's most notable summer resorts. Most of the program centers around Karuizawa, which is located in Nagano Prefecture, and for good reason—it typifies the history of these kind of Japanese summer resorts, which were largely started by expatriates in the late 19th century.

Karuizawa in particular became known as a place to go in summer among the ex-pat community thanks to a missionary named Alexander Croft Shaw, who established a villa there. As if that weren't enough to secure him a place in Japanese history, Shaw is also remembered as an associate of Yukichi Fukuzawa, the man who founded Keio University and whose visage decorates the 10,000 yen bill. Shaw lived at Fukuzawa's residence in the 1870s, teaching Fukuzawa's children and eventually becoming a teacher at Keio. Modern visitors can get a look at what Shaw's summer life in Karuizawa was like by visiting the Shaw Memorial House, which contains some of the missionary's personal items.


It's not hard to see why Karuizawa is such an attractive place.

Of course, Karuizawa is far from being Japan's only summer resort; others mentioned on the program include Hakone, near Tokyo, and Furano in Hokkaido. While getting out of the city is a big part of the appeal of summer resorts, believe it or not, there are even a few summer cool-off spots within Tokyo itself. The most famous might be Todoroki Valley, which includes springs, a waterfall, and more. Tokyoites cite this place as a great spot to get refreshed when there's no time for a trip elsewhere.


On Plus One, Matt Alt visits Lake Shirakaba, where visitors can make some flying friends.

In fact, if you're ever in Japan and feeling the heat, keep in mind the Japanese word for summer resorts: hishochi (避暑地). As explained by Peter Barakan, this three-character word literally means "a place to escape the heat," and a web search using it brings up lots of potential heat-beating destinations.

As we learn on the program, summer resorts are a relatively recent addition to Japanese life—but hot summers certainly are not. How did the average Japanese person fight the heat before summer resorts came along?

One method mentioned on the program is using a folding fan, called a sensu in Japanese. Used in Japan for over a thousand years, these handheld fans are essentially just wood and paper, but over the centuries, more elaborate versions emerged, with some reaching the level of high art. Sensu of this type were often a status symbol among Japan's nobility, and, as with many traditions in Japan, there were even competing versions from the ancient capital of Kyoto and the modern one, Tokyo. In addition to sensu, there are non-folding, paddle-shaped fans known as uchiwa, which can also be decorated with elaborate art. Whether you prefer folding or not, even today, fans are an essential part of any summer survival kit.

Another method used to keep cool in Japanese summers is less about lowering temperatures and more about feeling. Wind chimes called furin are placed outside and, when hit with a breeze, emit a pleasant tinkling sound that evokes a cool, refreshing feeling. This is a decidedly unscientific method, to be sure, but one that's been tried and true in Japan for centuries.

These and many more methods meant that Japan was already well-versed in dealing with summer before the idea of resorts was born—but thanks to ex-pats like Shaw, who planted the idea, and technologies like railroads, which gave people a way to get there, summer resorts became another valuable tool in Japan's summer survival toolkit.


Summer parasols are another common sight in Japan.


Warning: this edition may evoke jealously in viewers stuck in hot climes.

*You will leave the NHK website.