And so it begins! Once again we have entered that fun four-week-ish period of steamy streets, frizzy hair, sweaty everything and a daily chorus of ‘atsui-desune’. Welcome to ‘tsuyu’ (梅雨 or rainy season) in Tohoku!
Rainy season usually hits the northern prefectures of Japan’s main island in mid-June, hanging around in a hot and sticky cloud until mid-to-late July. Whilst this year is apparently not going to be too bad on a scale of moist to drowning, here are some tips to help you survive if you are facing tsuyu for the first time (or just need some extra support).
Glue your umbrella to your hand!
This might seem obvious, but don’t forget your umbrella!! You never know when a rain storm is going to hit (or it might just never stop), so best be prepared by bringing an umbrella with you every time you leave the house. If you are like me and even after four rainy seasons cannot seem to become accustomed to carrying a large umbrella with you everywhere (I have donated at least 3 umbrellas to the combini umbrella gods in the past 6 months), try buying a compact fold-up umbrella to keep in your bag. To avoid bringing the rain inside with you, Japan has some amazing umbrella-bagging machines to cover your wet umbrella before entering a building.
Not exactly environmentally friendly, but fun all the same.
Other essential items to keep on you are a small towel and for those who like to/have to walk or ride a bike to get from A to B, it is highly recommended to invest in some decent waterproof shoes and a poncho/rain jacket, because you really shouldn’t attempt riding a bike and holding an umbrella at the same time…it’s not going to end well. For the fashion conscious, MUJI 無印良品 offers a nice selection of minimalist rain-protection wear as an alternative to the huge range of brightly coloured/patterned options (also fun!) that you can find in variety stores such as Daiso, AEON or even convenience stores.
Forget about looking nice!
I wish I could tell you the magical secret that allows 99.9% of the female Japanese population to continue to appear impeccable, even after walking through a rain storm/typhoon, but I am still desperately searching for the answer. In the meantime, I have given up on using a hair straightener during rainy season; the humidity sees that this morning ritual becomes a complete waste of time much better spent sleeping to the sound of pitter patter. Your hair will be a frizzy mess and lots of humidity will also wreak havoc upon non-waterproof eye makeup. The good news is that Japan is the land of reasonably priced, good quality beauty products and you can usually find some pretty reliable setting sprays and waterproof eyeliners to get you through. One body product which I particularly recommend investing in (for both women and men) are these body wipes:
With only a subtle fragrance and a nice powdery finish they are perfect for giving yourself a freshen-up after stepping off a steamy train, riding to work or even just after walking from your car to the door (tsuyu sweat knows no limits). Take it to the next level with these ones (technically marketed at men but no cares given) which also contain menthol for an instant cooling affect!
Ever since 2005, the Japanese government has implemented the practice of ‘Cool Biz’ every summer; a campaign to reduce national energy consumption by encouraging Japanese workers to set their office air conditioners to a minimum of 28°C (82.4°F) and wear more casual, lighter clothing to keep comfortable. In typical Japanese fashion, the Cool Biz period is governed by calendar rather than actual changes in the weather, officially starting only when announced by the Ministry of the Environment on May 1st and continuing until the end of October. During this period, salarymen and women are free from usual requirements to wear neckties and suit-jackets, and given approval to wear otherwise frowned-upon items such as half-sleeve shirts, chino pants or even Hawaiian Aloha shirts. Make the most of this endless ‘casual friday’ and enjoy being more experimental with your office wardrobe! Crowd favourite UNIQLO also has a whole line of clothes made with sweat and odor-repelling fabrics to keep you cool (in all senses of the word).
Air circulation is your friend!
When the sun does come out, open every window and door within a ten-mile radius. I cannot stress the importance of air circulation enough!! The increased levels of moisture in the air mean that MOLD GROWS EVERYWHERE. Even in places you wouldn’t usually expect it to. Regularly check your cupboards and closets, particularly those with pipes. Try leaving even just one cupboard door open when you’re using your water systems to help avoid any excess condensation. Another must is checking your shoe-cupboard!! If you put shoes away with even the slightest amount of damp, you may be in for a nasty surprise next time you go to wear them. A good tip to aid the drying of damp shoes is to stuff them (and wrap them) with dry newspaper over night.
If you are the type to hold on to silica gel packets from inside your shoe-boxes, now is the time to bring them out again – scatter them in your shoe cupboard and hope for the best. Some more useful hints can be found here.
Make the most of the positives!
The good news is that rainy season signals the coming of some great events and attractions in Tohoku. It is the season for hydrangeas or Ajisai (アジサイ) and there are some jaw-droppingly beautiful locations around all six prefectures to go Ajisai hunting. A personal favourite is Korinji Temple (or Ajisai Temple) in Nihonmatsu City, Fukushima. I’m not sure what it is but these hydrangeas are some of the biggest and boldest colours I have ever seen anywhere else! For some more advice on great summer flower spotting, check the Fukushima Guide facebook page.
It is also at this time of year that, if you look carefully enough, you can spot tiny bulbs of light flying around near waterways and rice paddies – fireflies (蛍 hotaru) !! Beautiful to watch and only visible for a short time every year, this is definitely something to add to the distract-me-from-the-rain list. There are several known locations around Tohoku for hotaru viewing, but you might even be lucky enough to find some through your own exploration. If you find yourself in Iwate Prefecture, Koiwai Farm offers guided walks to some popular spots on various dates between late June and mid July.
If you are into photography, the cloudy days and dramatic lighting can be the perfect conditions to create some visual masterpieces. Since moving to Tohoku, I have become obsessed with the mountainous scenery but particularly on a misty, rainy day. As long as you’re careful not to get your camera wet, tsuyu can be a great opportunity to unleash your inner creative genius. Here are a few examples for your inspiration.
If you really can’t stand the rain or have an important outside event coming up, you could also distract yourself by creating your own teru-teru-bozu (てるてる坊主）, literally meaning ‘shining head/bald monk’ and also one of the cutest fine-weather charms on the planet:
Made with just a couple of squares of white tissue, paper or material, hanging one of these guys in your window is a long held Japanese tradition said to keep the rain clouds away. As the case with many great achievements in Japan, if the teru-teru-bozu is successful in bringing the sun out, it is rewarded with a drink of Japanese sake. Bonus points if you sing the teru-teru-bozu song while making yours (sake optional).
Plan your summer holidays…!
And if all of the above does not aid your rainy season blues, just be generally comforted in the fact that the sun will be here again soon…!! Time to start planning your summer escape.
Here’s a picture of the stunning Jodogahama Beach in Iwate for motivation.
We’ve got this!