Soaking in Japan’s rainy season traditions

Soaking in Japan’s rainy season traditions

by Takahiro Takiguchi
Stripes Japan

Constant gray skies and gloomy showers can only mean one thing in the so-called Land of the Rising Sun: The rainy season.

It starts to fall on Okinawa in late May followed by mainland Japan and Kyushu Island in early June. Cold northerly and warm southerly air masses collide to create 45 to 50 days of a continuous dreary weather front of clouds dropping anything from drizzle to torrential downpours.

But there’s no reason to let the bad weather get you down. Look on the bright side.

The rainy season is cheerily referred to as “tsuyu,” or plum rain, in Japan, as it coincides with the seasonal ripening of this luscious fruit. And with southern to central temperatures in the mid to high 70s (the high 60s farther north), Japan offers more seasonal outdoor activities than you can shake an umbrella at.

Keep in mind for future trip planning that Hokkaido is not affected by the rainy season and is a good option for to avoid the droplets and stifling humidity.


Photo by Takahiro Takiguchi

The rainy season doesn’t mean long weekends with only video games or TV, as it does not actually rain every day. (For example, the average number of rainy days in June is only 12 on the Kanto Plain, according to Japan Meteorological Agency.)

Expect this season to give the surrounding areas a different look. The rain makes old temples, gardens and traditional houses seem all the more elegant. And, if you live offbase, you may notice small ghost-like dolls made of cloth or tissue hanging from the eaves or on the windows of homes in your neighborhood. Often children, and even some adults, make these little “teruteru bozu,” or sunshine monks, to ward off bad weather for the next day when a fieldtrip or other outdoor event is planned.

In fact, why not make your own teruteru bozu?

Also, don’t miss the opportunity to take in the beauty of seasonal foliage.

With plenty of water falling amid the early summer warmth, several pretty flowers are also in bloom this time of year. Both hydrangeas (“ajisai”) and irises (“shobu”) are in full bloom in mainland Japan, while irises and shell ginger (“gettou”) are abloom on Okinawa. Flowering shell ginger heralds the rainy season on the southern islands; hydrangeas embody the season on the mainland.


Photo by Takahiro Takiguchi

The hydrangea’s original colors can vary from white, pink, violet and blue, and they gradually shift to different colors. Some change from pink to purple, and others from blue to violet or fade in intensity throughout the course of the 4- to 6-week season.

Peak flower viewing season on Okinawa is mid-May to the end of June, while it runs from mid-June to early July on the mainland.

In Japan’s central regions firefly viewing, or “hotaru gari,” (literally firefly hunting) is another favorite rainy season pastime. Lightning bugs are active at riverside, ponds, bushes or rice fields in the humid evenings, right after it rains on windless nights without moonlight.

Countless slowly moving tiny lights filling the air and drifting from one leaf to another make a spectacular sight. But don’t catch them, as the endangered bug’s life lasts only seven to 10 days. Like fireworks festivals in Japan, “yukata” (summer kimono) and an “uchiwa” (fan) are appropriate attire for this traditional pastime.

On Okinawa, rainy season usually begins just after the Golden Week holidays that take place around late April to the first week of May, and that means dragon boat races galore. Dragon boat races are held in fishing communities throughout Okinawa. These “hari” are also known as “kaijin-sai” (unjami) or fishermen festivals; they are a way to give thanks to the sea god and pray for safe and prosperous fishing.

Many of the traditional festivals and events that go along with Japan’s rainy season and upcoming summer are canceled due to COVID-19, but we can still enjoy the beauty these seasons bring to the nature that surrounds us.

Have a ghost of a good day

“Teruteru bozu,” literally, sunshine monks, are small traditional handmade dolls made of white paper or cloth. Hanging them on the eaves, according to local lore, wards off rain and attracts good weather. Children often make them when they want the next day to be sunny. They are a common sight in Japan on rainy days.

You can make teruteru bozu very easily. Try it and see how it works this rainy season.

Materials
2 pieces of tissue paper, and some strings

Procedure

  1. Crumple one tissue paper into a ball.
  2. Place crumpled tissue paper in the center of the other tissue paper.
  3. Wrap the second tissue around the ball.
  4. Tighten the tissue around the ball by twisting it to form the head.
  5. Tie a string and hang. If you like, you can draw a face on your teruteru bozu.

If you actually want it to rain the next day, lore has it that you should hang the doll upside down.

Rainy Season in 2020
Here is the forecasted rainy season by the Meteorology Agency.

Rainy season begins:
Okinawa: May 11
Sasebo: June 5
Iwakuni: June 7
Kanto: June 8
Misawa: June 14

Rainy season ends:
Okinawa: June 23
Sasebo: July 19
Iwakuni: July 21
Kanto: July 21
Misawa: July 28

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