Rainy Season (つゆ, “tsuyu” in Japanese) is upon us. It’s time for nothing but rain and clouds day after day sprinkled with some more rain on the side. Totally the worst time to visit Japan, right? Wrong!
Japan’s natural world magically comes to life during this wet time of year and it is not something you want to miss out on. Much of Japan’s ideology is focused on nature and encouraging everyone to harmonize with nature. By doing so you rejuvenate your spirit and are able to focus more on the present, appreciate your surroundings, and what you’re experiencing in the moment.
If any of this resonates with you, I urge you to give some of these Rainy Season Activities a chance and, hopefully, you’ll find a piece of yourself that you never knew you needed to find. So come on out of the city and immerse yourself in nature to experience the mystery and wonder that is Japan.
The first rainy season activity I recommend is going to the mountains. There is nothing more mysterious or beautiful than looking out on a vast mountain range and watching the misty clouds float by. Walking through the mist on a mountain and knowing you’re literally walking in the clouds is pretty amazing, too. I know what you’re thinking, if it’s cloudy enough won’t the mountains be covered? Yes and no.
The clouds are constantly moving and swirling around and, a lot of times, you hit a clear pocket between clouds to reveal a scene that gives you a new and unique view of the Japanese landscape. Two of my favorite places to visit during this time is Nikko and Oku-Nikko, just north of Nikko.
In Nikko, you can visit, in my opinion, an extremely photogenic bridge (Shinkyo 神橋) that looks beautiful during any season. Underneath the bridge you’ll find some of the most beautiful blue water you’ve ever seen! During rainy season the colors of the bridge and the water, coupled with the misty clouds floating behind it, are absolutely breathtaking.
After you pass the bridge, head on up another path to the UNESCO World Heritage site that houses the burial place of the first shogun of Japan and creator of the Edo Period. Here you’ll find many temples and shrines with such intricate wood carvings and vibrant colors. The original “See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil” monkey carvings are also there! You can really feel the history of this place when walking through it, and with the mist on the mountains you feel like you stepped back in time and entered another world.
Oku-Nikko is a great spot to view the mountains with mist rolling through them and over them. There are two observation decks that give you spectacular views of the Nikko mountain range. The first is the ‘Hangetsuyama Observation Deck’ located here, , which gives you a fantastic view of Mount Nantai and Lake Chuzenji below. And the second is ‘Akechidaira Ropeway Observation Deck‘ here, which gives you a fantastic view of Kegon Falls, Lake Chuzenji, and the mountain range behind them.
My second recommended rainy season activity is visiting waterfalls, especially during rainy season! The guaranteed rain for almost every day guarantees you a spectacular waterfall view. There are so many waterfalls in Japan it’s difficult to choose which one to go to, but I have a few to recommend to you.
A waterfall you should put on your itinerary is Kegon Falls in Oku-Nikko (photo above). This is a waterfall with easy access. Tucked in the Nikko mountain range it’s fed by Lake Chuzenji that sits by Mount Nantai. Rainy season is one of the best times of year to view this stunning beauty, but honestly it’s spectacular to view during any season.
Fukuroda Falls (photo below) in Daigo town and Ryumon Falls (photo below) in Nasu-karasuyama are also great waterfalls to see. Both waterfalls are massive, wide and easy to get close up to. Fukuroda has a tunnel that takes you right up to the waterfall and an elevator so you can view the waterfall at different heights. At Ryumon, simply park your car and walk down a path lined with beautiful hydrangeas to meet this monstrous waterfall.
If you’re looking for a bit of adventure with wonderful views at your disposal I highly recommend Oshiraji Falls (photo below) in Yaita city (near Nasu-shiobara).
This waterfall takes a bit more effort to get to and it can get a bit muddy so be sure to wear proper footwear! Once you park, you’ll hike a short trail down to the falls and what you’re about to see is worth all of the effort getting down there! What makes this waterfall so popular is not its size, but the dazzling, bright blue basin at the bottom of the falls. The scene is set around large, mossy boulders and an abundant forrest making this one of the most peaceful places I have experienced in Japan. If you’re looking for that connection to nature I mentioned in the beginning of this article, this is definitely the place you can find it.
Oh no, it’s still raining and the sun is going down and its feeling a bit chilly outside.
Rainy Season literally gives you the perfect excuse to be lazy and relax in onsen during any particularly rainy day (so…everyday!). A safe weekend getaway during rainy season is Kusatsu Onsen Town (photo above and below) in Gunma prefecture.
This onsen town is so magical that it has the power to relax and thrill you at the same time! I love Kusatsu so much I wrote a whole article dedicated to it (here).
Kusatsu is wonderful to view during the day, but at night the whole of Kusatsu town really comes to life! The main hot spring source, the Yubatake (photo above), and the surrounding buildings are lit up to create a magical view of the town! You can walk around town in your Yukata from your Ryokan, take in the splendid sights, and then dip back into onsen to wash off the rain. Bonus points if you dip into an outdoor onsen while its raining!
I also highly recommend going to Sainokawara Park (photo above), about a 5 minute walk just outside of the main drag. This is an urban park with hot spring water flowing out of the ground, surrounding you with small onsen rivers and streams with steam cascading over the grounds. There are a few small onsen pools to dip your feet into while relaxing and enjoying a splendid view of the park. But let me tell you, the best time to view this park is at night! Just like the center of town, the whole park is lit up with lights that are constantly changing color, giving the place a different vibe with each hue that is truly awe inspiring.
It is one of the nations most popular rainy season activities and is a pleasant sign that summer is right around the corner!
My favorite place to view hydrangeas is Mount Ohira in Tochigi city, Tochigi prefecture, where they have the Mt. Ohira Hydrangea festival (go to festival page) from mid June to early July. There’s food and ice cream stands everywhere with delicious treats to enhance your hydrangea experience. As if you really need any of that, though. This festival is home to over 2,500 hydrangea bushes!
It’s easy to get lost in the beauty of them all, and there’s something extra special about the way the rain drops settle themselves on the petals of the hydrangeas. Somehow the various colors of hydrangea pop and have a very vibrant look to them, even on cloudy days. Further along the path through the hydrangeas, I recommend taking the 1,000 steps up to the shrine at the top of the mountain to experience the full beauty of the hydrangeas. Once you’re up there you can also allow yourself to enjoy a view of Tochigi city below. Not a view you want to miss.
Another famous place for hydrangeas is the Mito Hydrangea festival (go to festival page) in Howaen Garden (保和苑) in Mito city, Ibaraki prefecture that also offers stunning views.
Sake Brewery in Mashiko
Sake Brewery in Nasu-Karasuyama
Sake Breweries in Nikko
Contributor: Heather Brewer
Heather Brewer is an Expat wife who, with her husband and two kids, moved from Ohio, US to Utsunomiya City in 2019. Since then, Heather has fallen in love with ramen and sushi and has become addicted to onsen. Being a huge history nerd, she loves diving into Japan’s rich history in every new place she visits.
See all of Heather’s travel guides: Heather Brewer’s Travel Guides