It’s autumn in England and it’s officially “winter” here in Bangkok with temperatures barely reaching thirty degrees. But in my Bath Novel Award shortlisted novel You’re Beautiful it’s summer. Japanese summer, that is. And that means beach bars, fireworks, screaming cicadas, oppressive heat, and typhoons—all of which I’ve managed to slip into the story. But there’s one key element of Japanese summer that never made it into the book and that’s the summer festival, when everyone gets dressed up in the summer kimono known as yukata and dances to ancient recordings of mournful folk songs played through crackly speakers. There’ll be someone keeping the beat on a drum, usually on a raised platform like the one in the photo above, and everyone will dance slowly around it in a circle, performing the same moves in unison, often moves that suggest traditional occupations like digging for coal or hauling in fishing nets. The whole scene can induce a spine-tingling nostalgia for a past that isn’t even yours.
Above is “my” beach, down the coast from Tokyo, where a group of little girls in yukata wait for the festival to start. Below is the rather ugly light-industrial Tokyo neighbourhood where I used to live, made beautiful with festival lanterns.