When talking about the Japanese rainy season, one often visualizes a depressing scene: gray clouds unloading endless showers on the streets of Tokyo. Since airfare and hotel reservations are cheaper during this period, one assumes that it might not be worth it. That Japan loses its charm.
Rest assured, the Tsuyu and Akisame rainy seasons are far different from what you imagine. Don't you dream of a Japan without crowds of tourists in front of monuments and places of interest?
When does the rainy season start and how to prepare for it? How to still enjoy your trip to Japan? Discover the key elements to live an out of the ordinary experience.
Specificities of the rainy season in Japan
Meaning of Tsuyu and Akisame
The term Tsuyu can be translated as "plum rain". It refers to the rainy season from June to mid-July. Its name was given in reference to the harvest of ume plums. This fruit is very appreciated in Japan and is used in the making of umeshu (delicious plum alcohol), jams and syrups. It is not uncommon to put a dried umeboshi plum on a hot bowl of rice to enhance the taste.
June is nicknamed minazuki, "the month of water". The rice fields are flooded, beautiful hydrangeas are in bloom and invade the Japanese landscapes.
Depending on the region of Japan, Tsuyu occurs at slightly different times. For example, in Okinawa, it lasts from early May to mid-June. Hokkaido Island is the only place which is not affected by these rain showers.
As for the Akisame rainy season, "autumn rain", this one is much shorter and takes place from mid-September to early October. In Japan, it is said to herald autumn.
The weather in Japan during the rainy season
Not all rainy seasons are alike. Contrary to popular belief, it does not rain every day. Some days can be sunny. However, let's face it: the air is very humid, with humidity levels up to 75%. Temperatures are high, rain showers can last for hours and create a foggy landscape. And unfortunately, the Japanese are not immune to landslides and floods during Tsuyu. This period represents about a quarter of the rainfall in the year.
Moreover, Akisame is known to be more violent than its sibling Tsuyu, because of the typhoons it causes.
What to do in Japan when it rains?
Essential equipment to face the rain
During the rainy season, the weather is quite changeable and cannot always be predicted accurately. You will have to quickly adapt to the situation to fully enjoy your trip to Japan.
First essential accessory: the umbrella. You will see a cascade of transparent umbrellas pouring into the streets of Tokyo when it rains. They are easily found in konbini and other supermarkets. You can also make a statement and get yourself a fancy umbrella!
Secondly, remember to adapt your outfit to the weather. Rubber boots, a waterproof jacket and various accessories to protect you from the rain are very welcome.
Japanese people are also fond of small sponge towels, which allow them to quickly wipe their face after an unexpected rain shower.
Lastly, the locals have another way to repel rain: Teru Teru Bozu dolls. They are made of white cloth and are hung in the windows in the hope of bringing back the good weather. If this makes you curious, check out 15 other amazing Japanese superstitions.
Top 10 best activities during the rainy season
1. Go shopping in Shotengai: indoor shopping arcades
Stay dry thanks to the vast arcades that cover Shotengai. You'll find traditional handicraft stores, unique Japanese bakeries, charming cafes and souvenir shops. You will find them in most of the tourist areas of Tokyo: Asakusa, Nakano, Ueno, etc.
2. Attend a sumo wrestling match
You may have already heard of sumo, the ancient Japanese wrestling sport. Why not attend a tournament? We advise you to go to Ryogoku Edo Noren: restaurants and stores are gathered around a sumo ring!
3. Participate in traditional ceremonies
In the Land of the Rising Sun, ceremonies are part of everyday life. Each one offers a real immersion in Japanese culture. The experiences are as varied as they are unforgettable: tea ceremony in Kyoto, ikebana, initiation to the art of calligraphy... It's up to you!
4. Discover unusual museums
The rain doesn't stop, and you have already done the tour of the exhibitions you wanted to see in Tokyo? Get off the beaten track and dive into the surprising eccentricity of the capital with the Nihonbashi Aquarium Art Museum, the Tokyo Trick Art Museum or the Snoopy Museum! What to bring back funny and intriguing souvenirs.
5. Warm up in an onsen
We all dreamed of relaxing in a warm onsen after a long day of sightseeing. The famous Oedo Onsen Monogatari in Odaiba, which reproduced an Edo village, has unfortunately closed. But this will not prevent you from enjoying the benefits of thermal waters. You will find them everywhere in Japan. Moreover, the ancestral onsen of Hakone Yumamoto are not far from the capital!
6. Admire the blooming of hydrangeas
Many tourists prefer to visit Japan in spring time for Hanami and cherry blossoms. But the Tsuyu rainy season offers another equally magical sight: the hydrangea bloom. The scenery is then dotted with blue and purple flowers.
Fuji TV building.
7. Entertainment in arcades or in Odaiba
If you happen to be strolling in the Akihabara district when suddenly a rain shower falls without any warning... No problem, you're in the right place to enjoy the atmosphere of arcades and thus to try a lot of unknown video games! If that's not your thing, Odaiba Entertainment Island may have something for you: Borderless TeamLab, Palette Town Activity Center or the Fuji TV Building.
8. Learn about Kabuki
Did the traditional ceremonies arouse your curiosity and thirst for culture? Go to the Kabuki-za theater in Ginza or the Kabuki Minami-za in Kyoto to learn more about this Japanese art. You can watch historical and contemporary dramas and dances. Impossible to get bored, even if you don't speak a word of the language.
9. Sharing delicious food in an Izakaya
Escape from the rain and take refuge in these cozy Japanese bistros. You will have the chance to taste delicious food and refreshing drinks while chatting with your neighbor. The perfect place to recharge your batteries and enjoy a festive and relaxing evening.
10. Enjoying Hokkaido's festivals
As you now know, Hokkaido Island is miraculously spared from Tsuyu. Head to Sapporo to participate in some unique festivals: the Yosakoi Soran festival in Odori Park, and the one in the Hokkaido Shrine.
The rainy season is not the most popular time for tourism. But as you can see, this is not a reason to boycott Japan, but rather to deepen your knowledge of this exceptional culture. Create your own memories and personalized experiences, far from the clichés.