As I’ve now fully experienced the joys (and the horrors) of all the seasons in Japan, I feel I can now write about them! I’m from southern California, pretty close to L.A. in fact. We don’t have seasons, or if we do, it’s simply a “hot and sunny” and a “less hot but still sunny”! We can go to visit the seasons in the nearby mountains, but then we return to our sunny homes in the afternoon after we’ve had our fill.
So moving to Japan was my first real experience with the changing seasons. I’d seen them in movies, and enjoyed our day-trips to the mountains, and so was (however misguidedly) under the impression that I could totally handle it, no sweat!
I’ll go in the order I experienced the seasons here and hopefully help out all you other weather-spoiled, solar-powered southern Californians!
I arrived in spring, a beautiful flowering time full of sakura (cherry blossoms) and ume (plum blossoms). You know what this means? Allergies! I’m lucky enough to have escaped the curse of allergies, but everywhere you see face masks, eye drops and tissues.
- The flowers are beautiful! All the greenery is coming back and the world is waking up after a long winter.
- Everything is spring flavored! Find plum wine, juice, cake, ice cream, pickled plums,etc. And then cherry blossom art, mochi, specialty Starbucks drinks, candy, the whole country goes crazy for sakura in the spring!
- You can go on a hanami, a cherry blossom viewing. Watch Japanese families, friends, and businessmen stake out a spot, eat good food and get drunk all on a lovely backdrop of blushing pink flowers! It’s really fun guys, I recommend it.
- It’s still cold. Pack some long sleeves and a jacket. While it’s miles warmer than the winter, days are still chilly and nights are downright icy!
- Allergy season is at hand. Pollen is everywhere, even blowing over from China, and almost everyone will be wearing a preventative face mask. I’m blessed enough to have never had allergies but for the majority of people it’s a problem.
- Free packets of tissue are handed out everywhere as an advertisement, especially in allergy and flu season. I’ve had an entire box as a gift from a gas station! Make use of those free tissue, take them all!
- Allergy medication, bring it. I even have some just in case. And while you can find it over here, you might not be able to recognize it…
- Stake out a hanami spot early, especially if you’re in a popular area you’ll want to set up a tarp in the early morning hours. It’s incredible, people respect that here! If I just saved my spot with a tarp at a major event in the States while going about my day, I’d probably come back to find people in my spot and my tarp crumpled up in the gutter!
- Bring an umbrella. Everywhere. I don’t care if it’s sunny in the morning, if you don’t bring your umbrella (heck, even if you do) it’s gonna rain.
Ah, the glorious warmth is back! Everything is green! Melon and cool festivals are everywhere! Summer is an awesome season in Japan; as an avid hiker it’s my 2nd favorite (and it’s a very close second)!
- It’s sunny! While it still rains, and there’s the occasional typhoon, it’s sunny more often than not! I’ll take it!
- Festivals, festivals, festivals! The Japanese like their festivals! If you get lost and come across a random shrine there will probably be a festival going on! It’s also a great time to try on a summer yukata, eat some greasy festival food and have a shaved ice in an unusual flavor for dessert.
- Fresh vegetables and fruits are abundant. Summer food in Japan is really good! Try some unagi (eel) said to be cooling for the body, or get a few friends and splurge on a melon and smash it open to eat on the beach! Iced barley tea (mugi-cha) is often served with meals and it’s something I’ve come to love!
- Beaches! Being an island and all, Japan does have some great beaches and a thriving surfing culture. Ibaraki is the destination of many Tokyo surfers and finding a surfing competition isn’t hard.
- Fuji and other hiking destinations open! The hiking season for Fuji usually starts in July and goes to mid-September. Japan has it’s 100 Famous Mountains for you to tackle and (as Japan is pretty much one long mountain range) there are a million more for you to discover!
- The humidity can get really bad at times. I’ve never lived anywhere with humidity before, just California and Arizona (it’s a dry heat!) so I was unfamiliar with how miserable it can get.
- Bugs abound! Mosquitos, those little buggers, were the bane of my existence. I don’t usually get bitten too often but man, they sure liked me this summer! Cockroaches are something I’d never experienced either. Those suckers can run and are the only kind of bug that truly creeps me out!
- Mold grows easily in the humidity. Go figure. You have to be extra diligent with futons and showers to make sure they don’t get taken over by icky yucky mold.
- Plan your Fuji climb at least a month ahead of time, it gets crowded. And please be prepared! It’s not a walk in the park, but it’s most definitely worth the effort.
- Daiso and other 100 yen stores all sell dehumidifying sheets. Put these in your closets, cabinets, in your folded clothes, futons, etc. They’ll help keep mold and moisture at bay, just remember to replace them when they’re expired!
- A mosquito and fly catcher would be good, they’re sold in most stores. Also cockroach spray so you don’t have to chase a half-smashed and nearly beheaded cockroach running at light speed around your living room (still kind of traumatized…).
- Wear loose clothing in light colors, also it helps to do things in the early morning and the evening. I get why siestas are a thing in some countries, when it’s that hot you don’t want to be productive in the middle of the day!
- Run the dehumidifying setting on your A/C unit, it’s cheaper and more energy saving than the full on air conditioning, and it also helps to cool the air a bit. Fans to circulate the air are also lifesavers!
- If you get too hot, try freezing a wet washcloth to put in bed with you. They feel marvelous (just be sure to put it in plastic, don’t want too much moisture on your futon as it melts!).
- When you go out, bring a folding fan. Even men carry these around with them and when you’re in a stuffy subway or walking around in the sun or sitting at your desk by the window in the teachers room at school you’ll be glad for it!
In the interest of keeping this a manageable length, I’ve broken it up into two parts. Stay tuned for fall and winter later this year!
Japan is truly a place that wholly embraces the changing of seasons. Everything from food to decorations to clothing changes as the year goes on; no matter what season you are in Japan there will always be something new and exciting to discover! Adventure on!