The Japanese Picnic: Escaping Natsubate

Me and my family hail from Alaska. Living with the high temperatures of a Maine August, which probably seem scant for people from say Arizona...or Japan, seems like the absolute extremes of human tolerance to us. So when we discovered that the temperature was going to go up to 82 degrees over the weekend, my mother, sister and I hatched a plan. 

We live about four minutes down the road from some really excellent beaches. In the summer time we will often go down and swim after a long hot day. This time I suggested that we pack up in the morning and camp out on the seaside all day. Further more, I decided to make a Japanese picnic for us to enjoy alfresco.

This seemed like an excellent idea in and of itself, obviously since I started this blog I have had a lot of motivation to cook as much Japanese food as possible (you're welcome). I also enjoy cooking multi dish Japanese meals, I've staked my claim to most family holidays in this respect, so I was looking forward to tackling another one. Besides all this, it seemed appropriate, since every single shojo manga* I have ever read includes a trip to the beach. 

While reading about summer in Japan I came across the word natsubate, which literally translates into "suffering from summer heat". The actual temperatures in Japan are pretty similar to what we have in my home state on our hottest days, about 79-89 degrees average on the main island. However, they have the added benefit (I'm using sarcasm here) of having 80% humidity most days of the summer.

I had suspected that this was the case, since I had once gone to a lecture given by a woman living in Japan. After the talk we were all eating poky and socializing when someone said to the speaker that they were sorry she had to come to Maine when it was so humid. It was humid that day, about as humid as I usually can stand. The woman laughed and said that in Japan it wouldn't be considered humid at all. I filed that away as vital information, noting that when I am finally able to fulfill my life long dream of visiting Japan, I should avoid summer, or stick to Hokkaido (the northern most island, which is much cooler). 

Even though it's less hot and nowhere near as humid in Maine, I still think that the word natsubate can be applied, because I was suffering. So I went through all my cookbooks and made a list of all the food that I would prepare, planning on making most of it the day before. The menu was as follows:

1. Yakisoba (fried noodle dish) 2. taiyaki (fish shaped cakes filled with custard and chocolate) 3. iced tea (mugicha and matcha) 4. watermelon 5. blanched green beans in a sesame dressing 6. chilled cucumbers 7. onigiri (rice balls) 8. chicken and shiso tempura 9. peach pie. 

I started by making the green beans, because they were the easiest, and I was pleased to discover that the sesame dressing was absolutely delicious and very similar to Thai peanut sauce. People who are allergic to peanuts but still like Thai food might want to take note. I got the recipe for this out of Everyday Harumi

Next I made the custard for the taiyaki, though I wanted to make the actual cakes in the morning, because they are best fresh. Then I made the chicken and shiso tempura. This was a recipe that I found in a new bento book I got, Effortless Bento. Technically it isn't the traditional way of doing tempura. It called for chopping up the chicken and pouring the batter into the bowl with it, then dropping globs of it into the deep fryer. It's an easy and fast way to make tempura for bento, but boy was it delicious. I especially liked the shiso (a Japanese herb close to mint) which was really good deep-fried in the batter. I'd almost eat that all by itself. 

I won't go into the peach pie, because it's not Japanese. However, suffice to say that I love making pies almost as much as I love cooking Japanese food. If pies were as healthy as washoku, I might have started two blogs. 


In the morning before packing up I made onigiri, which should always be made fresh, and the yakisoba. The noodle stir fry was very easy, with only a few ingredients thrown together in a wok. The sauce was made with tonkatsu sauce, chicken bouillon and soy sauce. For noodles I used a black rice noodle that I found in a local co-op. So not a traditional Japanese noodle, but pretty similar to soba. The recipe was in Everyday Harumi.

The taiyaki were also finished in the morning. Despite looking complex, they are really very easy to put together. This weeks video will show you how simple they really are. The recipe I used for both the custard and the cake was from and you can find a taiyaki pan here

Once the food was all done, and I had crisped up the tempura in the oven, we packed everything up in two coolers and changed into our swim suits. A shady patch of beach was soon ours and we spent all day with the sun, sand and salt water. We were later joined by my sister's boyfriend and our other sister, her boyfriend and their adorable golden-doodle. 

The food was all scrumptious and a big hit all around. If I do say so myself, it was a well balanced meal with all the flavors and textures complamenting each other magnificently. Even if you don't make such an elaborate meal, I recommend packing up some summertime Japanese cuisine and heading to the beach!

By the way, if you happen to be planning a trip to Japan and want to escape the natsubate at the beach, here is a list of some exciting places you might want to check out. In the meantime, head to the oceanside wherever you can and enjoy the summer.

*Shojo manga are a genre of Japanese comic books aimed at teenage girls. The settings and subject matter vary, but it generally can be said that they tend to focus on human emotions and relationships.