"When it comes to fight or flight, I always choose to run like hell."
Isa planned the perfect summer:
Tokyo and the Summer Olympics — check.
Helping her best friend prepare for the marathon — check.
Forgetting she's in love with Masa — double check.
But when Isa's mother is hospitalized, she has to abandon her summer plans to run the family's Tokyo business. Masa’s offer to help makes it impossible for Isa to ignore him — and the firecracker kiss they shared half a world away. Everyone expects the world of her, but the pressure to please them all is as oppressive as the Tokyo summer heat. The simplest answer to all her problems? Run.
I personally live for summer. It's my favorite season and I wish I could experience it all year round (I doubt I would miss the seasons). But summer in Japan is especially fun with tons of things to do. The parks are busy on the weekend, summer festivals attract men, women, and children of all ages to dress in yukata (summer weight kimonos made of cotton), eat awesome street food, and watch fireworks. But summer is also about cooling off whether at a city pool or at the beach.
Japanese summer treats come in a wide range of sweet and refreshing confections. Probably the most universal favorite is soft serve ice cream, sold all over the country in a staggering amount of flavors. Some of the most notable concoctions are black sesame, matcha green tea, and mango, with such runner-up odd flavors being sweet potato, almond, melon, rose, and even tofu!
Isn't that black sesame ice cream cool looking? I really want to try it. But another cold summer treat you may not be familiar with is kakigori. Kakigori is a mountain of shaved iced doused in a sweet syrup, condensed milk, and topped with fruit, green tea powder, or a dozen other different things. Kakigori is a Japanese summer favorite and the variations differ by region. But don't mistake it for a snocone! Kakigori shaved ice is fluffy and light, reminding people of fresh snow, not ice.
|(Used in accordance with CC license, Wikimedia Commons)|
This particular kakigori has a lot of different fruits and a creamy syrup, while the one below uses green tea powder.
When my characters, Isa and Masa, spend a day together in Asakusa (Tokyo), they decide to visit a temple, and in the afternoon, they go to Ueno Park and eat ice cream. It's there that Masa confesses he always wanted to go to school in Tokyo…
Masa walks beside me as we wind our way through Ueno Park, a vast expanse of greenery to the west of Asakusa. With the afternoon in full swing, all the paths are flooded with people. I turn my head and catch sight of an old man sitting in the grass with a guinea pig on a leash.
“Did you see that?” I ask, giggling and grabbing Masa’s arm, jerking my head to the left. “That guy has a guinea pig, on a leash! Outside!”
Masa laughs, his face flushed from the beer we drank. “I’m sure that’s pretty normal around here. Our next outing should be to Ikebukuro or one of the cat or owl cafés. That’d be fun for you.”
“I hear there are guinea pigs at the Inokashira Park Zoo, and I still want to go to Studio Ghibli.”
Masa nods his head, his hair bouncing everywhere. “We have lots of time this summer to do everything.”
“Only if we spend our days off together.” My heart stutters. I’m being too bold.
“I don’t want to spend them with anyone else.”
Between the heat of the day, the beer, and Masa saying things I actually want him to say, my face blushes bright red.
“Ooof,” Masa breathes. “You’re burning up. You okay?”
“I’m fine,” I say, fanning myself with the brochure from Sensō-ji Temple. “Happy, but yeah, hot.”
Masa turns to walk backwards in front of me. “Let’s get ice cream and sit in the shade.”
We head out of the park and find a place that serves soft-serve ice cream in a variety of crazy Japanese flavors. I order a cone of mango and coconut swirl and Masa gets matcha green tea ice cream in a cone. We run back across the road, into the park, and under a tree to a shady piece of grass.
“Matcha’s my favorite,” he says, licking the length of the swirl and eating half of it in one big chomp. I have spent many meals with Masa. They all involve him eating his food in a vacuum-like manner. Food is on the plate one moment, in his belly the next. It’s not disgusting, though, how some guys eat. More like it just disappears straight into his mouth.
“Have you composed a haiku for it? I don’t believe anything is special to you until it’s been a haiku.”
“Of course…” He clears his throat, before pushing his sunglasses on top of his head.
“Bitter and sweet cream
The color of grass and spring —
Soft serve gone swiftly.”
I laugh as he takes another bite and only the cone remains. The mango and coconut ice cream was a good choice, sweet and tangy, and so cold sliding down my throat, cooling me off from the inside out. I sigh in contentment, drawing my knees up to my chest. Masa chomps and finishes his cone in three more bites before leaning back in the grass next to me on his elbows.
“I love this area. You ever been here?”
“No,” I say, sweeping my eyes across the crowds, the sidewalks, and the grass. “What else is around here?”
“Tokyo University, Geidai. It’s an art school.” He plucks at the grass, rubbing the blades between his fingers. “I wanted to go to school there — begged my parents to send me — but my dad thinks art is ‘impractical.’” The air quotes are loud and damning. Masa is lucky to have so much talent, but not every parent wants to see their kid grow up a starving artist.
I fold my arms over the tops of my knees and rest my head on them, holding my dripping cone over the grass. “Why’d you end up at State then?”
“English and communications was the closest I could get to art, and I like East Lansing a lot. My mom went to graduate school at MSU, so we always visited. Anyway…” He sighs, his eyes turned away from me and unfocused. I imagine him here, walking with a backpack like at MSU, at home in Tokyo. I bet he would have been happy here. "So, how long have you been having panic attacks?" he asks, his voice low so no one else around us can hear.
Oh boy. What's happening here? Isa's having panic attacks? I guess you'll just have to read to find out!
In the meantime, hit me up in the comments and let me know what your favorite summer time treat is! Mine is definitely Italian Ice. Cool and sweet, it's the perfect treat.
About The Author
Stephanie (S. J.) is a writer, knitter, amateur astrologer, Capricorn, and Japanophile. She loves foxes, owls, sushi, yoga pants, Evernote, and black tea. When she’s not writing, she’s thinking about writing or spending time outside, unless it’s winter. She hates winter. Someday she’ll own a house in both hemispheres so she can avoid the season entirely. She’s a mom to two great kids and lives with her husband and family outside NYC. They have no pets. Yet. When it comes to her work, expect the unexpected. She doesn’t write anything typical
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