June has arrived, and along with the change in month comes a change in weather, the arrival of the Japanese rainy season. Known as tsuyu (梅雨) in Japanese, the rainy season is not generally considered the best time for visiting Japan. There are some advantages for traveling at this time of the year, though. For example, people are less likely to be taking trips, so many places can be less crowded or cheaper to visit. Here are some ideas for activities to help get at least some sort of enjoyment out of the rainy season:
In June, the fireflies come out in many regions of Japan, and there are various festivals held all over the country to celebrate this. Fireflies―known as hotaru (蛍) in Japanese―live for around seven to ten days in total, during which they basically have no choice but to enjoy the humid weather conditions.
If you want to try and spot fireflies yourself, the best place to do so is in the countryside, away from the artificial light and noise of the city. Between 8:30-9:30pm is the best time for viewing them, but be careful not to use flash photography when taking pictures.
There are also a number of organized festivals where you can see fireflies. Not too far from Tokyo, the Fussa Firefly Festival (ほたる祭り) is held in mid- to late- June of each year. Around 500 fireflies are released and there are musical and dance performances to watch as well.
In the southwestern Hiroshima area, an annual firefly festival known as the Yuki Onsen Hotaru Matsuri (湯来温泉ホタルまつり) is held in the hot spring town of Yuki (湯来). Also held in June, this festival offers the perfect opportunity to combine firefly viewing with a stay in a traditional Japanese onsen. (Note: As of this writing, the date for this festival has not yet been set.)
These beautiful flowers also come out during the start of the rainy season, and are very common all over Japan. Known as ajisai (紫陽花) in Japanese, these flowers can change color from white to blue, pink, and purple. There are popular hydrangea viewing spots all over Japan, and notable places include Mikaeri Waterfall (見返りの滝) in Kyushu’s Saga Prefecture. Voted one of the top 100 waterfalls of Japan, every year in June you can see around 40,000 hydrangea flowers in bloom.
In central Tokyo, a hydrangea festival known as the Bunkyo Ajisai Matsuri (文京あじさいまつり) is held in Hakusan Park (白山公園) at Hakusan Shrine (白山神社). Three-thousand hydrangea plants are in bloom during June, and there are a number of street stalls lined up selling various items and welcoming visitors.
If you don’t want to go to an organized festival, you can always just view them by yourself. I went to view hydrangeas in my city in Kochi Prefecture recently. Located in Konan City, there is a famous footpath called Ajisai-dori (あじさい通り), almost one kilometer long, which has hydrangeas in bloom all the way along. It’s a lovely spot by the river and I stopped at a nearby cafe afterwards for brunch. It’s a great way to spend a rainy day.
The rainy season is a good time to sit and soak up the steam of in one of Japan’s many natural hot springs. Why not take a few days and visit an onsen town? On the main island, you could visit Hakone (箱根), close to Mt. Fuji, or Kinosaki (城之崎) near Kyoto, voted Japan’s best onsen town. Most onsen offer a day pass, allowing visitors to wander the streets in their yukata, stopping off at different bathhouses along the way.
Other famous onsen in Japan include Arima Onsen (有馬温泉) near Mt. Rokko (六甲山) near Kobe, which is one of Japan’s oldest hot springs dating back to the year 631. Dogo Onsen (道後温泉) in Matsuyama City, Ehime Prefecture (愛媛県松山市) is the oldest bathhouse in Japan, and is said to be the inspiration for the bathhouse in the Ghibli classic Spirited Away. You could also visit Beppu (別府) in Kyushu, with literally hundreds of bathhouses to choose from.
These are just a few ideas for activities you can do during this time of year in Japan. There are also (mostly) indoor activities you can do, such as shopping and visits to temples, museums, and restaurants, so there’s no need to let the rain spoil your trip. Although depending on where you’re from, the humidity may do that for you anyway.
Top Image: flickr, xenmate
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