A Japanophile who has survived 15 solo trips to Japan. His visits focus on discovering the country’s lesser-known attractions.
It is often said that Japan—a country famous for dramatic seasonal landscapes—is perfect for visiting any time of the year. What most travel guides do not highlight, though, is that each Japanese season comes with its own weather inconveniences.
For example, gorgeous Sakura blossoms may fill the cities every spring. However, March and April in Japan are prone to sudden cold fronts and high precipitation.
The Japanese rainy season is also at its most unbearable between June and August, with June being the wettest. This translates to the whole of the Japanese summer being a constant battle with humid, wet weather.
Following which is September, the peak of the Japanese typhoon season. Even if you were to travel to Japan in the subsequent “autumn-clear” months of October and November, it is still unlikely that there wouldn’t be any rainy days during your holiday.
In the face of these, there is often also little choice but to “embrace nature.” In other words, to make the best of one’s time and situation by coming out with a rainy day itinerary. The following is a list of suggestions on what to do in Japan during wet weather days. Take note, these tips do not apply to extreme situations such as typhoons and blizzards. In those situations, you must follow official advisories and seek safe shelter.
9 Things to Add to Your Japanese Rainy Day Itinerary
- Lose Yourself in a Japanese Labyrinth
- Take a Dip at a Super Sento
- Head to an Indoor Theme Park
- Learn Something New
- Attend a Performance
- Go for a Photo Shoot
- Try Your Hand at Rainy Day Photography
- Indulge in Manga
- Embrace the Rain
1. Lose Yourself in a Japanese Labyrinth
What is frequently a navigational nightmare becomes a haven when it rains in Japan. Major Japanese train stations are often linked to extensive underground complexes and retail corridors that seemingly extend forever. Full of shops and eateries for all budgets and interests, you could easily spend a few hours within one of these labyrinths, only to discover you have but covered half the ground.
Outside of underground malls, train stations such as Osaka Station are also part of larger groups of multi-use complexes, complexes that include cinemas, concert venues, and exhibition halls. For the convenience of shoppers and travelers, these behemoths are always interconnected by sheltered passageways.
2. Take a Dip at a Super Sento
The classic tourist image of an onsen experience, or Japanese hot-spring bathing, is that of a misty pool surrounded by gorgeous natural scenery. In my opinion, such images do not do full justice to the Japanese hot-spring bathing experience, because onsen is far from only being enjoyable at such rustic locations.
All major Japanese cities have at least one super sento—sento being the Japanese name for public baths. (The water may or may not be actual hot-spring water.) At larger establishments such as Oedo Onsen Monogatari in Tokyo, Spa World in Osaka, and Corona no Yu in Sendai, stepping into a super sento is akin to entering another world or time period. An experience that comes with many atmospheric dining possibilities and esthetic indulgences too.
Even un-themed super sentos could be full of all sorts of bathing adventures, from whirlpool Jacuzzis and waterfall baths to cold-water dips, “electrified” pools, and aromatherapy saunas. As is well known, the Japanese have long refined bathing into an art form. What better time than a drizzling day to investigate this art form in depth?
3. Head to an Indoor Theme Park
Major Japanese theme parks like Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan only close on days with extreme weather. (For example, when a super typhoon hits) However, unless you enjoy slushing about in soaked shoes and wearing a poncho the whole day, these are generally the places to avoid when it pours in Japan.
Instead, head to indoor theme parks such as Joypolis and Nanjatown in Tokyo, or Lego Land Discovery Center in Osaka. If fun rides and thrills aren’t your cup of tea, you could visit themed indoor attractions such as the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum, Spa Resort Hawaiians in Iwaki, or Tempozan Harbor Village in Osaka.
In the case of attractions like Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum, you would surely be astounded by the incredible indoor reconstructions of historical eras, on top of being entertained by quirky ad-hoc performances. With some planning, an entire rainy day could easily breeze by at one or two of these attractions. You might even entirely forget about the gloomy skies swirling outside.
4. Learn Something New
There are many day lessons geared towards travelers of all ages and backgrounds in Japan, from cooking courses to meditation tutorials, to Japanese-language crash courses and cultural introductions. At certain travel destinations, there are also uniquely Japanese hands-on experiences. These could be pop culture indulgences such as manga drawing, or traditional arts like Ikebana-style flower arrangements.
In short, if you’re open to learning, there’s no shortage of experts in Japan eager to share their knowledge with you, even during rainy days. Along the way, you might even pick up a new lifelong hobby.
5. Attend a Performance
Traditional Japanese performing arts such as Noh, Kabuki, and Bunraku are renowned throughout the world, with the attendance of any of these performances easily the high point of a Japanese holiday.
In the event that traditional arts do not appeal to you, you could consider western or pop culture entertainments such as jazz gigs, “Idol” performances, or even a maid café session. For those who happen to be in the biggest cities, and are seeking experiences that are truly different, there are out-of-this-world vampire-, ninja-, medieval-warlord-, and Anime- themed restaurants to try.
Lastly, animal cafes have taken Japan by storm in recent years. Incessant rain throughout the day? No problem. Watch the world refresh itself while surrounded by genteel feline companions or adoring puppies. The experience will positively rejuvenate you.
6. Go for a Photo Shoot
You don’t always need to head to a temple or castle to experience traditional Japanese culture. How about bringing the culture to yourself?
Many establishments in Kyoto offer tourists the opportunity to dress up in traditional Japanese attire for professional, themed photo shoots. (Some even allow you to take a stroll around town) While a little rarer, other Japanese cities have also started providing similar packages in recent years. For example, in Nagoya and at the Asakusa district of Tokyo.
Naturally, such dress-up experiences are not limited to only kimonos and hakamas. At “Anime hubs” such as Tokyo’s Akihabara, there are many fun-filled cosplaying packages. For the enthusiastic, just deciding which costume to go for could be the high point of a rainy day itinerary.
7. Try Your Hand at Rainy Day Photography
A lot of times, rainy days in Japan are no more than incessant drizzling the entire day. With some research and preparation beforehand, these depressing days could actually be golden photography opportunities.
Be it neon-lit streets or historical districts, or just a simple paddy field, the world takes on a whole new look when washed by the elements, particularly at night. In fact, rainy days are considered by many professional photographers to be the best opportunities for masterpieces. If you looking to increase viewership for your social media accounts, such opportunities might be what you need to instantly go viral.
Safety First During Rainy Day Photography
Remember, safety is always paramount. Never forget the following:
- Be prepared for sudden changes in environmental conditions. Always check forecasts beforehand.
- Be sure to adequately protect your gear. A drenched camera will require expensive maintenance.
- Do not be obsessive. It is sheer stupidity to continue to snap away when lightning is flashing every other second or when waves are getting higher and higher.
8. Indulge in Manga
Without a doubt, manga is one of the pillars of modern Japanese entertainment. Some fans even consider manga to be Japan’s greatest offering to international pop culture. In view of that, why not make use of a rainy day in Japan to check out or indulge in the country’s most beloved storytelling form?
Apart from manga museums in Kyoto, Kitakyushu, etc., the country is also full of manga cafes where for a low entrance fee, you can lounge for hours amidst thousands of titles. The storytelling form is renowned for its broad coverage of themes and subjects, so even if you can't read a word of Japanese, chances are, you’ll still find something interesting to browse through.
Incidentally, larger manga cafes often provide unlimited drinks, WiFi, console gaming, television, paid showers, and private booths for rental too. You might get so comfortable, you don’t wish to leave even after the skies have cleared.
Some super sentos, such as Manyo-no-Yu in Fukuoka city, have massive manga collections in their relaxation rooms. Manyo-no-Yu itself has a collection of over 10,000 titles.
9. Embrace the Rain
Again, when it is but a constant drizzle, it might not be that awful an idea to let your hair down for a few hours and just venture out. While you will get wet and possibly a little grimy, chances are, you might also be rewarded with sights most other tourists do not get to see.
Moreover, with everybody else hiding indoors, typically overcrowded attractions will be blissfully empty. In some cases, this might be your best opportunity to enter a popular attraction without having to queue beforehand for an hour. Momentarily, the beauty of Japan is all yours.
© 2016 Scribbling Geek