tsuyu: rainy seasonAaron Pylinski | Community Writer
Those of us who are new to Iwakuni have heard of the rainy season, traditionally known as tsuyu, in Japan. I have heard stories of non-stop rain for 30 days, soaking everything, creating mold and mildew, and making life in general just a little bit uncomfortable. This will be my first rainy season and I’m looking forward to what it has to offer in the way of precipitation and all the soaked clothes and shoes that go along with it. I’m told also that this is the time when all the creepy crawly bugs make their way indoors, so prepare accordingly (If you missed last month’s article on “Dangerous Critters of Iwakuni” be sure to check it out).
Tsuyu written in kanji (梅雨) quite literally means “plum rain.” The rainy season brings the ripening of Japanese plums called ume, which means tasty umeboshi (pickled plums) and umeshu (plum wine) for all. When it comes to flavor, umeboshi is the Japanese Sour Patch Kids but it is known to have certain health qualities as well, promoting longevity and helping ward off colds. Umeshu isn’t so much a wine as it is a liqueur. There are multiple variants of how it’s made, but the basic ingredients are ume, sugar, and alcohol (white liqueur, whiskey, or shochu).
Tradition for the tsuyu is to make the teru teru bozu or Shine Shine Monk. These handmade dolls are made out of white paper or cloth and are hung in windows to keep the rain away and bring sunny weather. I could see this tradition being similar to the American game of stringing thread inside your house to pass a rainy day. But naturally, most Japanese traditions are steeped in something spiritual and this particular American tradition more or less just tries to kill time.
Although the wetness may cause a little discomfort in our daily lives by soaking our clothes and putting a thick cloud of humidity over everything, it is a very important time for the animals and plant life in Japan. Most of the locals don’t complain too much about it, either.
In spite of the seemingly endless weeks of constant soaking, it is worth enduring because rain is critical for rice farmers. Tsuyu is also the perfect time for the Japanese to indulge in their favorite activity, flower viewing. The symbol of the rainy season is the beautiful Hydrangeas, also called Ajisai. These incredibly colorful flowers bloom in radiant blues, whites, pinks, and purples.
As the rain continues through the season, this brings out the snails and frogs. In Japanese tradition, snails are called katatsumuri “insect with the umbrella.” These aren’t the only wildlife that likes to start poking around, though. Tsuyu also invites cockroaches and everyone's favorite creepy crawly, the mukade.
If you’re caught out in town without proper rain attire, most shops have umbrellas, plastic coats, plastic trousers, and towels for sale. However, it is better to prepare ahead of time and the MCX is already increasing its stock in preparation for the rains to come. There is a variety of children’s raincoats, boots, and water shoes available.
Don’t let bad weather keep you indoors, though. Tsuyu won’t last all year and if you play your cards right and prepare, you can make the best of a bad situation by getting out to see what Japan has to offer.
Temples and gardens look exceptionally attractive in the rain and with the hydrangeas blooming, your rainy season experiences can be rather pretty. The best thing is, crowds are limited and you just might catch the sight of a Shine Shine Monk or even some insects with umbrellas. So, grab a slicker and an umbrella and get out there because once the rain is gone, the humidity rolls in, and then you might as well be standing on the surface of the sun.
If your shoes get soaked because of the rain, you say that they are びしょびしょ or Bishobisho, which means: “Wet Through.” So it’s always a good idea to have two or three extra pairs of shoes to swap out during Tsuyu.
SIGHTS TO SEE WHEN IT'S RAINING
Onsen at Iwakuni Kokusai Kanko Hotel
You’re already going to be wet from the rainy season, you might as well make the best of it by stepping into an onsen and enjoying the best part of geothermal energy: the natural hot tub.
This requires a little bit of travel, but south of Osaka is a mountain paradise that is home to Shingon Buddhism and has a temple complex that offers lodging and monk vegetarian cuisine.
A hot spring resort near Lake Ashinoko southwest of Tokyo that offers views of Mount Fuji when the clouds break. This is a particularly popular destination for travelers looking to get away and relax.
Japan’s northern island is almost hardly touched by the rainy season. If the grey clouds are getting you down, take a trip up north to Japan’s untamed wilderness and recharge your batteries, a number of locals do it every year... when in Rome, er, Japan.