In a strange bit of timing, Japan is emerging from COVID-19-related #stayhome advisories just as the rainy season is about to begin. The season generally hits most of the country in early June and lasts for five weeks on average. Only Hokkaido manages to escape the precipitation.
Known as 梅雨 (tsuyu) in Japanese, the kanji for rainy season literally means “plum rain,” as it coincides with ripening plums. However, while the term may conjure up romantic scenes of a Japanese garden or pastoral landscapes bathed in mist, most of us are preoccupied with the mundane reality of daily life in the wet weather. What follows are some tips when preparing for the weeks ahead.
Mind the mold
The combination of damp air and rising humidity creates a perfect breeding ground for kabi (mold) at this time of the year, but luckily there are some easy steps to combat it.
Clothes and shoes: You can buy moisture-absorbing products known as 湿気取り (shikke tori) at drugstores, large supermarkets and home centers to protect your garments and footwear. They come in various shapes and forms that include squat containers you can place in a regular closet or the shoe closet by your front door, or small packets for slipping between layers of clothes or linens in storage. If your shoes get wet — and they will get wet — stuffing them with newspaper will help them dry faster, and it’s a good way to recycle your Japan Times.
Futons: A little extra care will help you to rest easy during the rainy season. Help protect your bedding from mold and dust by folding it up and storing it in a closet during the day. And if you find yourself home on a rare sunny day, take the opportunity to air your futon on the balcony in a time-honored Japanese tradition that’s a familiar sight in many neighborhoods.
Bathrooms: Japanese-style bathrooms are susceptible to mold, so be sure to run the kankisen (ventilation fan) more than usual. If you have a window, open it whenever possible to let the air circulate.
Wiping down the surfaces helps to prevent mold, but you’re likely to get some anyway. In that case, spraying everything with a special mold-busting cleaner like Kabi Kirā is your best bet. I recommend wearing gloves and keeping the bathroom well-ventilated when using mold-killing products. If you are particularly sensitive to fumes, a mask is also good.
If you prefer a more natural cleaner, spraying the affected areas with vinegar and then wiping them down with water after an hour or so will help.
A laundry list of tips
Washing and drying laundry can be a challenge in the rainy season. Don’t leave clean, wet clothes sitting in your machine — get it dry as soon as possible. If you don’t have a dryer, you’ll need to think of alternative methods when it is too wet to hang washing outside. Most Japanese-style bathrooms have a pole inside for hanging up wet laundry, and if you turn on the bathroom fan and shut the door, it can help.
If you are dealing with a growing mountain of dirty clothes, though, you may want to just head to the nearest coin laundry. If your budget is tight, wash your clothes at home and then use the dryers there.
Technology is your friend
Most air conditioners in Japan have a dehumidifying mode marked with the kanji 除湿 (jōshitsu), which should keep the air comfortable.
If you want to take things up a notch, though, consider investing in a proper dehumidifier (jōshitsuki). Not only will this help with reducing dust mites and mold, the latest models are also very helpful for drying laundry inside. A dehumidifier is particularly recommended if someone in your household suffers from allergies or if your home has poor ventilation.
Food can spoil quickly in humid conditions, making food poisoning an added risk during the rainy season. Cover and store perishable foods quickly to lower the risk.
Home management experts also recommend changing dishcloths and tea towels daily, and cleaning kitchen sponges at least once a week (soaking them in kitchen bleach or vinegar for five minutes should do the trick). Emptying the strainer in your sink and wiping over the inside of garbage pails will also help to reduce smells as the humidity rises. And make sure you don’t forget garbage day.
Gardens and plants
If you have potted plants on your balcony or in your garden, remove any saucers underneath during the rainy season because they don’t need to sit in extra water. Also check to see there are no buckets, empty plant pots or other things that could collect rainwater and become a potential breeding spot for mosquitoes.
Finally, if you are growing vegetables at home, a friend with a greener thumb than mine recommends covering up tomatoes (an old umbrella will do) to stop them from splitting, and tearing off the bottom leaves from cucumber plants once they grow past 50 centimeters, in order to prevent powdery mildew building up.
At a minimum, it’s wise to carry a compact fold-up umbrella and a small hand towel during the rainy season in case you get caught in a downpour. If you ride a bicycle, you’ll probably want to invest in a plastic raincoat or cape. You can get cheap ones at any ¥100 shop, while supermarkets and accessory shops will offer sturdier versions. Rainboots can come in very handy for parents who have to navigate sodden, muddy school grounds or playing fields in the course of their day.
Finally, while the rainy season can seem endless, it doesn’t usually rain every day, and the hydrangeas will be looking splendid.