Japan’s Rainy Season

Japan is a country that experiences 4 true seasons, 5 if you consider the rainy period of summer it’s own season. Tsuyu in Japanese, is the especially rainy season typically between the end of May until the end of July. This year, although rainy season was officially announced in the first week of June, we really didn’t feel the affects of it until last week when sudden heavy humidity, along with warmer temperatures and thunderstorms rolled in. I can’t think of one person who considers rainy season the best part of the year, as it can be very tiring dealing with the weather during this season, however there are things you can do to beat the humidity and wet days during tsuyu.

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Dress Accordingly

Although typically hot and humid, when the rain storms roll in it can cool down quickly. The best way to dress is in light layers with breathable fabrics. Not only does it cool down with rain, it also can get rather cool at night or inside air conditioning so it’s best to bring a light scarf or sweater with you.

Activities

There is a lot to do indoors while you’re visiting or living in Japan, particularly in a big city such as Tokyo. Visit one of the many museums – there is surely something to suit your taste. From art, to history, science, pop culture and special pop up exhibits that are always changing, you won’t get bored. The department stores around Tokyo are also worth checking out. Even if you’re a window shopper, you will enjoy the fantastic displays and cool air conditioning. Shibuya, Shinjuku and Ginza have massive department stores on most every corner what will surly impress.

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Onsen

There are people who prefer to visit onsens in rainy season. You can find Japanese onsen (natural and man made) all over Japan. I personally prefer to visit onsen in the winter, however the cloudy gloom of rainy season attracts many people during tsuyu as well.

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Umbrellas

During rainy season, more often than not it is necessary to have an umbrella with you. Conveniently, in Japan there is no shortage of umbrellas. There are convenience stores on every corner selling the clear plastic umbrellas and many specialty umbrella shops too. Japan has many unique, stylish umbrellas in all price ranges and sizes. Grab yourself a folding, pop-up umbrella to stick in your bag and you’ll be good to go!

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Image result for umbrellas in tokyo

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Flowers

One of the great things about the changing seasons in Japan is all of the different flowers that bloom throughout the year. When rainy season rolls around, you see hydrangeas pop up everywhere. You’ll be able to spot the blue, white and purple flowers from the train, in neighborhoods, temple grounds and even the big city streets. Tokyo has a few spots well known for hydrangeas so if these colorful flowers put a smile on your face, be sure to stop by Hakusan Shrine in Tokyo’s Bunkyo ward. To be honest, there is actually not much to see here except the hydrangea flowers. During the rainy season there are over 3,000 hydrangeas in bloom and a festival in honor of these flowers every year in mid-June.

Hakusan Jinja

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Hokkaido

If you want to skip out on rainy season all together, you might consider visiting Hokkaido which is a region of Japan that barely is affected by rainy season, if at all.

There is a bullet train you can take from mainland Japan to Hokkaido but the more common way to get there is by flying. Hokkaido summers are known to be cool, with no humidity and beautiful mountain scenery. There is a famous lavender farm in Furano, lakes, ocean side towns, seafood, and more. Prices from mainland Japan to Hokkaido can vary greatly depending on when you book – so if you’re flexible play around with the dates and times until you find a good deal.

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Image result for hokkaido summer

Although rainy season is perhaps not the most ideal time of year in Japan, there is certainly a bit of Japanese culture that has been built around it. I hope that if you have the chance to spend time in Japan during tsuyu, you enjoy it!

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Japanese Culture Uncovered: Hina Matsuri (Girls Day)

Hina Matsuri,  literally translated means Doll Festival (also known as Girls Day), is celebrated March 3rd in Japan. Small porcelain dolls, dressed like court nobles from the Heian period are displayed in the homes of families with daughters.

I did a little digging to find out a bit more about the background of this day along with how it is celebrated in modern Japan.

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History

The origin can be traced back 1000+ years (!!!!) to the Heian period which is known to be the last division of classical Japanese history, running from 794 to 1185. The Heian period is named after the ancient capital of Japan and capital of that time (Kyoto).  This time period was a peaceful era and also considered the peak of the Japanese imperial court. It is noted for its art, especially poetry and literature. Up until this time, China influenced Japan a lot, however this was a period where society focused more on Japan itself and less on foreign influences. This is also the period before and leading up to Samurai coming to power. I did a little more reading on the Heian period and found that women were valued very highly and were said to be more powerful than men. Female authors were highly regarded and even served in court.

Back then, straw hina dolls were sent down a river to sea, taking away bad spirits, health problems, or any troubles with them. This part of the tradition does not happen anymore because the dolls would get caught in fisherman’s nets. In Kyoto still today, the Kamo Shrine will still celebrate by sending the little straw dolls straight out to sea (avoiding the river all together) and then later bring them back to the shrine and burn them once everyone leaves.

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It is too bad this part of the tradition has disappeared because it seems to be the most significant part in the origin story. Apparently it comes from an ancient Chinese practice where the sin and misfortune of a person, body and spirit, are transferred to the doll and removed by sending it down the river.

It was during the Edo period (1615-1868) when the tradition of displaying hina dolls began. The third day of the third month of the year was a holiday in Japan before that time, but there are no earlier records of doll displays on this day.

Food & Drink

Below I have described the food associated with this day, although not so many people actually have them.

Hishimochi: A diamond-shaped colored rice cake. They are usually red or pink, white and green. The red is for chasing away evil, the white is for purity and the green is for health.

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Arare: Little bite-sized crackers that are either sweet or savory, depending on the region of Japan.

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Ushiojiru: Clam soup. It is a simple salt-based soup with small clams still in the shell which represents unity and a good marriage.

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The traditional drink is called “shirozake” which is made from fermented rice like sake except it is nonalcoholic so children can drink it too. It is a cloudy white drink and tastes like sweet wine.

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I found a great article from the Japan Times going into detail about the different foods associated with Hinamatsuri that even includes recipes if you want to try your hand at preparing a traditional dish yourself.

Modern Hina Matsuri

Families generally start to display the dolls in February and take them down immediately after the festival, literally by midnight. Superstition says that leaving the dolls past March 4 will result in a late marriage for the daughter. This legend seems to be taken the most seriously of all, everyone is sure to take down there dolls for fear their daughters won’t marry.

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Typically, it is traditional for the grandparents to buy the dolls. The dolls are not cheap either! A set costs around $1500 USD and can go up to $100,000 depending on the size and quality. Most homes just have one set of a couple, it saves on space as the average home is small without much room for storage.

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Price of this set converts to $4000 USD

 

What are your thoughts on Hinamatsui? Does your culture have a holiday that is similar?