Updated: Jun 19, 2018
Japan's Four Seasons
Japan relishes in the beauty that is produced here throughout the year. The Japanese are very proud of the four distinct seasons experienced as well. The coming of each season is almost celebrated in the way it is admired. The best example being the coming of spring which is brought in by enjoying parties under the blooming cherry blossoms. Or the coming of fall signified by the bursts of color from the changing leaves. Walks among the momiji (Japanese Maple tree) are very common and you can often see some really fantastic sights if your timing is right. Even in winter you will find illumination events throughout Japan and the snow festival in Hokkaido. Each Season holds its own collection of beauty and wonder. Each region in Japan will highlight different aspects of that beauty through seasonal festivals, foods, and more.
The Rainy Season
Unfortunately, due to Japan's geographic location, the country is also plagued with a rainy season. I say unfortunately because for me, life becomes a little difficult when you ride a bicycle to work every day and then have to suddenly ride in the rain for about a month. When it starts, you will often see rain of some type on most days for about a month or more. Heavy rain, light rain, misting rain, sideways rain, and so much more. Sometimes the expression "it's raining cats and dogs" doesn't do it justice. Often it can be more like it's raining cats and dogs that are in a knife fight. Still, it's not always that bad. Where I am, there are often days that offer brief breaks in the rainy weather to almost recover before the next rainy day. Well they would be nice if this season didn't usually occur just before summer time. While the exact time will differ depending where in Japan you are, it usually starts in June and runs through July. This means that those clear days can be hot. Even if the temperature would be pleasantly warm, the humidity will have sky rocketed. Sometimes it can feel like the kind of humidity where you feel like you are breathing in more water than air and wonder if you can drown from humidity. It can be a little rough, and I am sure my attitude will change vastly once I get my Japanese drivers license and a car.
I complain about it, but it's not all bad. Just before the rainy season, there are fields where you can go and see the fireflies. It's an almost magical event that occurs just before the rainy season starts. As the rainy season gets under way, you will see farmers use the extra water to raise the levels of rivers in order to prepare for the rice planting. The sounds of frogs and bugs will echo through the evening too. For me that sound is relaxing. For others, this might annoy you to no end. And on the days I don't have to go out in the rain, I can watch it come down and listen to the sounds of the rain hitting the roof of my apartment. It really makes it easy for me to drift off to sleep. Sometimes, the rain can completely change the atmosphere and feeling of a place. It happened to me on a trip to Miyajima, a place I had been many times before. I found myself there on one rainy day dodging puddles and trying to stay dry. Then I looked up and started to notice the water running off the old buildings. For a moment, I completely lost myself to the peaceful scene and became very relaxed. It reminded me that not all rainy days are bad. And since I work as an ALT, the rainy season had one other good meaning for me. It meant that once it was over, summer would be here and I would begin my six week long vacation.
The Necessities - A Good Umbrella
Living here, coping with the rain each year is just a part of life. It's what you do. When you have to go out into the rain you adjust accordingly. Being prepared can go a long way and Japan has a great variety of things to help you stay dry. The most basic of these things is a good umbrella. There are some really fancy and stylish umbrellas here. Some will even reveal patterns or change colors when they become wet. Some become compact enough to fit in your back pocket while others may be extra large with designs to help you keep in control when there are high winds. But the most common of umbrella can be found in every convenience store across the country, a simple large umbrella made with a clear plastic to ensure maximum visibility. It's convenient when walking in crowds or when riding your bicycle. Speaking of which, It is illegal in most places to ride your bicycle and carry an umbrella at the same time. Even though they sell an adapter that can hold your umbrella on your bike while you ride, it is still illegal and those adapters are technically for baby strollers. Assuming you are like me and still need to ride a bicycle in the rain and want to obey the law, then you will want to invest in a good rain suit.
The Necessities - A Good Rain Suit
You will find many varieties of rain suits at many price points. You can even find one at the 100 yen store. I will tell you this now, do not be afraid to invest in a good quality rain suit. a cheap one can be a good quick fix, but there is no beating a good quality one. For me, it takes about 25 to 30 minutes one way to get to work. The cheap ones just don't do any good when you are in a moderate rain for that long on a bicycle. My first decent suit was one I got from a Coleman outlet store. It was on sale for 5000 yen (~$50), about half off the normal price, but still a pretty good suit. Unfortunately for me though, it turns out that suit was designed for walking and hiking in and not biking. It mostly worked except for the fact that the pants had zippered reversed pockets to help keep the rain out while still giving you access to your pockets. A nice feature really. Except that when riding a bike, they turn into collection wells where all the collected water flows into and collects until it slips through the zippers. I would always arrive at work with the sides of my pants soaked to my knees but everything else dry. I tried to wear the pants backwards, but the way they were formed made that not really an option. I had to buy a new suit.
The Necessities - Rain Suit for your Bag
One addition to the rain suit I carry now is a rain bag I purchased from the convenience store for a few hundred yen (a few dollars). This turned out to be a great purchase. I bought one that was made to use with a briefcase, so there were access points for the shoulder strap or handle. I used it with a tote bag for a long time until I started using a backpack. This bag still worked great with the backpack too. You can find one that is suited to the bag you use too. But unless your bag is already water proof, then its a good idea to have something. technically you can put a plastic trash bag over your stuff too, but that is no where near as convenient, is more prone to ripping, and will be bad for the environment when you inevitably have to throw it away.
Beware of Mold
Another big issue during this time of year can be mold. With so much moisture and humidity, its easy for mold to sprout up and infest your living space. Especially since you don't have a chance to open the windows and air out your home. Fear not, Japanese homes are designed with this in mind and have a few features to help you out. While some of these features may not be standard in all homes, I will highlight the ones in my apartment.
The first feature will be the ventilation fans around your apartment. Don't underestimate them. These fans can exchange the air very efficiently while removing much of the humidity in the air. For my own apartment there are three separate fans and one built into the air conditioner. I have one in the bathroom (no, its not just to remove smells), a multipurpose one in the shower, and one over the kitchen stove. Don't be afraid to run them from time to time to help change the air in your home and remove some of the humidity.
The Fan in the bathroom of my apartment has multiple settings and is used for different purposes. On top of the common sense use of getting the moisture our and drying out your shower room, this fan can also be used to dry your clothes when you cant hang them outside. My shower is equipped with a removable bar to hang clothes from for this purpose. The fan also has multiple temperature and strength settings as well as a timer to shut it off. And just as you should use this fan after a bath or shower, you should also use the kitchen fan when you cook. Especially if you are using a rice cooker or boiling water. That fan is perfect for catching that humidity right away and getting rid of it. Don't just use it because you burn all your food.
And lastly, become familiar with your air conditioning unit. Use the google translate app's live translate feature with the camera to help you if you need to. there are more features than just hot and cold air. In particular, my own air conditioner has a dehumidifier function. This can be very helpful during the rainy season. It should also be noted that using the air conditioner can also help lower humidity levels. It also has a few features for helping to clean your air which is kinda cool and great if you have allergies in spring.
You can save yourself a lot of trouble and headache if you use these tools to help prevent mold. You don't have to leave them running all the time and run up your power bill, but you should use them. Run the kitchen fan when cooking, The shower fan during and after a shower or when drying laundry inside, or run all three for about 30 minutes or more to change out the air in your apartment.
Final Thoughts and Advise
It can be easy to get discouraged or bummed out during the rainy season. There are a lot of little things that can add up to make it seem like a huge task or a situation you might otherwise not wish to deal with. In reality it's not so bad. It's just rain. Carry an umbrella in or on your bag, leave a change of clothes at work (just in case), carry an extra pair of dry socks, keep your rain suit in your bag, and run the fans from time to time to prevent mold. That's it. If you are still feeling down or depressed during this time of year, try this. Turn a corner and take a look up and around. Watch the drops of water as they drip off the buildings. This country has a lot of beauty with one of these beautiful aspects that can only be seen when it rains. Lose yourself for a moment to the peace that seems to come with the sound of the rain. Take a deep breath, enjoy, and remember that the rainy season only lasts about a month and its bringing summer to you.