Yuu-suzumi, The Art of Savoring Summer Evenings

By Rumi Tsuchihashi

 A lush pond-side is an ideal setting for  yuu-suzumi , as shown by the guests enjoying drinks and delectable bites at the 2015 Garden Party. You, too, can have this experience when you join us for the  2018 Garden Party: Festival in the Evening Sun . Photo credit: Aurora Santiago

A lush pond-side is an ideal setting for yuu-suzumi, as shown by the guests enjoying drinks and delectable bites at the 2015 Garden Party. You, too, can have this experience when you join us for the 2018 Garden Party: Festival in the Evening Sun. Photo credit: Aurora Santiago

Summer air is thick with rising heat and palpable humidity in most parts of Japan. Midday, as temperatures reach above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, people often avoid the sun's intensity and keep to the air-conditioned indoors.

But then, as dusk nears, doors and windows open. Children come outside, followed by the adults who sit on the engawa porch, often with a refreshing drink and a fan in hand. It's time for yuu-suzumi.

Yuu-suzumi translates simply to "evening cooling". Though it isn't apparent from the phrase itself, yuu-suzumi always involves being outdoors, and it's often a shared experience. Some enjoy yuu-suzumi at home. Others, especially in dense urban areas, head out to parks, gardens, river banks, or even small boats. With sizzling energy still in the air, come evening, the outdoors beckons people to join together and to have a good time.

 Image of a family enjoying  yuu-suzumi  during the Edo period. Kusumi Morikage (1620 - 1690).  Staying cool under an arbor of evening glory .

Image of a family enjoying yuu-suzumi during the Edo period. Kusumi Morikage (1620 - 1690). Staying cool under an arbor of evening glory.

It's not certain when this way of celebrating summer evenings began, though yuu-suzumi was clearly in style during the Edo period. There are numerous ukiyo-e paintings from the 1600-1800s depicting yuu-suzumi, with men and women dressed in summer kimonos known as yukata. Whether they're at humble countryside homes, under garden arbors, or in elaborate riverside venues with fireworks rising above the night sky, the subjects in these ukiyo-e paintings almost always look happy, relaxed, and even dreamy. 

Yuu-suzumi as a public festival is very much part of the summer experience all over Japan today. Now you'll likely find that they include activities like night markets with street food and live music concerts. With savory aromas and sweet sounds added to that still-warm evening air, modern day tradition of yuu-suzumi delights all of the senses and creates memories friends and family are happy to share and remember.

And whether you're in Japan or here in Seattle, that's what the best of summer is all about: making beautiful memories that linger long after the heat and humidity give way to cool, autumn breezes. 

We're excitedly preparing our own version of yuu-suzumi for you to experience this summer. Garden Party: Festival in the Evening Sun is happening on Thursday, July 12. It's the one time all year that food and beverage is served in the garden. Come and join us in fully savoring the gardenit's a unique opportunity you won't want to miss. And all proceeds will support programming and ongoing care of the Japanese Garden. Learn more and purchase your tickets here.