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 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 likely that you would encounter a few rainy days during your holiday.
In the face of these wet days, there is little choice but to “embrace nature.” In other words, to make the best of one’s time and situation by swopping original travel plans with a rainy day itinerary.
The following is a list of suggestions on what to enjoy when it just wouldn’t stop raining in Japan. Take note, these tips do not apply to extreme circumstances such as typhoons and blizzards. In those situations, you must follow official advisories and seek safe shelter.
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, with 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, major transportation hubs such as Osaka Station are also part of larger groups of multi-use complexes. These complexes often include cinemas, concert venues, departmental stores, and exhibition halls. For the convenience of shoppers and travelers, these behemoths are also 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 communal 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 also akin to entering another world or time period. Such an experience 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, to “electrified” pools and aromatherapy saunas. As is well known today, 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 rains 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 Japanese 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 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 on 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 instead consider western or pop culture entertainments such as jazz gigs, “Idol” performances, or even a maid café session. For travelers staying 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 too.
Lastly, pet 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 Themed 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 photoshoots. (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 Bad Weather 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 transform into 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.
Remember, safety is always paramount during rainy day photography. 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 thereafter.
- 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 provide unlimited drinks, WiFi, console gaming, television, paid showers, and private booths for rental too. In summary, you might get so comfortable, you don’t wish to leave even after the skies have cleared.
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 even be your best opportunity to enter a popular attraction without having to queue for an hour beforehand. Momentarily, the beauty of Japan is all yours.
© 2021 Yong Kuan Leong
Yong Kuan Leong (author) from Singapore on March 19, 2021:
Hi Liz, thanks for commenting! About rainy day itineraries, I learned the necessity for this way too late; only after a fortnight in Japan in 2015, when it rained 10 days out of 14.
With the remaining 4 days overcast too. LOL.
Liz Westwood from UK on March 18, 2021:
This is a very helpful and well-structured article. I recall rainy days several times, as a visitor, even in the most settled of climates. It's always useful to have wet day plans just in case. I am now in the habit of listing sights for possible itineraries, making note of which ones are suitable for rainy days.