We are coming to the end of spring, with its beautiful days and cool nights. Spring, like autumn, is always pleasant in Japan due to the agreeable temperatures and low humidity.
However, we are moving into the month of June, and soon summer will be here. For those of you who are new to Japan, we will be entering the period before summer known as the rainy season. In Japanese, it is called Tsuyu or Baiyu 梅雨, which means plum rain as it coincides with the ripening of the plums on the trees. It is also occasionally called Samidare 五月雨, which literally means May Rains, as in the old Japanese calendar, this was the time of rice planting.
This weather phenomena is caused by the meeting of cold northerly and warm southerly air masses, which results in this horrible, grey, wet weather from early June to the middle of July. This weather front normally begins in Okinawa around the second week of May, working its way eastwards and hitting the Kanto region around the second week of June, before moving up north. Only the island of Hokkaido is spared the rainy season.
The rain that falls during this season is not the usual downpour one sees during summer or winter. Rather, it is a constant dreary drizzle or light misty rain that just gets into every aspect of life. Coupled with the overcast and gray skies and high humidity, it can all be rather depressing.
As one would expect with all that high humidity and dampness, you have to be careful as the atmospheric conditions encourage the spread of mold all over the house, in particular the bathroom, kitchen and clothing.
This is the time of year you have to be very careful when it comes to food, as rot sets in very quickly. Food opened should be refrigerated as soon as possible and not left outside. There are many cases of food poisoning during this period.
When the sun does come out, it is the opportunity to air out your house or apartment. Open all the windows, closet doors and drawers to change the air and hopefully, prevent the spread of mold. You can also buy desiccant boxes(湿気とり, shikketori) from the stores that you can place in your closets that soak up excess moisture. Clean the filters in your air-conditioner and avoid hanging your wet clothes indoors if possible. Pay special attention to the bathroom and try to ventilate this as much as possible.
If you find mold, clean it up as soon as possible as it can be harmful to health. While there are many products on the market, the best one is still the old-fashioned bleach, (漂白剤, hyouhakuzai). Just make sure you protect your hands with gloves and have the area well ventilated before you start scrubbing.
This season is also the time to be careful with food, particularly raw food. Wrap in cling film or plastic containers, or better still, cook the food first then put them in the fridge. When buying groceries, look at the expiration date to get the freshest produce.
As mentioned, the weather is very unstable during this period. It could be sunny when you wake up, and raining by the time you leave the house, and vice versa. So always make sure you are carrying an umbrella with you during this season.
However, it is not all doom and gloom. The rainy season is not a popular period for tourists so a lot of attractions are not crowded, and in some places, fees are cheaper.
This is also the season when the hydrangeas (Ajisai 紫陽花) are in full bloom. While they are very pretty on their own, they take on a special beauty when wet from the misty tsuyu rain. Kamakura is a good place to visit at this time of the year with numerous temples blooming with hydrangeas. Take the JR Yokosuka Line, get off at Kita-Kamakura station and follow the course. It starts with the temples around the station and you can visit different ones as you wind your way down the hill to Kamakura itself.
Many scenic spots look particularly captivating during this season. Hot springs, especially the outdoor baths, are a good place to visit. Hakone is special with the mountains and lakes bathed in mist, and Japanese shrines take on an otherworldly appearance. The torii 鳥居 gate seeming to beckon one to leave this world and enter the spiritual one on the other side.
So, while it may seem depressing, there are also good points about the rainy season. Follow the locals and carry a Japanese folding fan 扇子 with you to help keep cool. For the ladies, you can buy refresh sheets called さらさらパウダーシート. These refresh sheets help to wipe away the sweat and make you feel good and fresh, like after a shower. For men, they`re called デオドラントボディーペーパー and have the same effect.
Finally, if you want to go out and are tired of all that rain, you can try the ancient method of warding off rain by putting out a teru teru bōzu 照る照る坊主. Teru means shine and bōzu means monk. These are traditional dolls made of white paper or cloth and hung outside on a string. In the old days, farmers would do this to ensure good weather for their crops.
Children do this the day before an event like a picnic or sports day when they want the weather to be fine. After hanging out the teru teru bozu, they would chant the song asking for fine weather:
てるてるぼうず、てるぼうず Teru-teru-bōzu, teru bōzu
明日天気にしておくれ Ashita tenki ni shite o-kure
いつかの夢の空のよに Itsuka no yume no sora no yo ni
晴れたら金の鈴あげよ Haretara kin no suzu ageyo
Teru-teru-bozu, teru bozu
Do make tomorrow a sunny day
Like the sky in a dream sometime
If it`s sunny I`ll give you a golden bell.