Japan in rain: 5 tips for surviving even the worst of weather

The weather forecast didn’t look good: Constant rain for the first five days of our trip to Japan with a chance of a typhoon brewing up later on.

Of course, my hubbs thought that I was exaggerating and that no weather outlook could ever be as bad as I can conjure it up in my pessimistic mind. The reality was even worse (and most importantly: I was right!). Out of 12 days we had rain for 8 days, ranging from constant drizzle, to heavy downpours ending with a typhoon.

I wish I could say that we braved the elements like two navy seals prepping for a mission in the jungle, but that would be a lie. In fact, we had to adapt our travel plans and skip some outdoor activities and destinations in favour of spending more time indoors.

I was trying my best to play it cool, even though I was feeling sorry for myself most of the time, constantly repeating the same whining mantra inside my head: “I can’t take photos from under the umbrella! / My feet are wet! / We’ll never see Mt. Fuji! / I’ll have to photoshop colours into all my photos! / This would look soooo much nicer in sun! / Please, let me stay in bed!”

Against all odds I survived and here’s my list of top five things to do if you get caught in rain in Japan:

Go visit a temple

Now this one is easy, as temples and shrines come in all forms and shapes in Japan. However, finding the right one for a rainy day might require some knowledge.

In Kyoto we used the help of our local friend who took us to the Eikando Zenrinji temple. Here you can easily spend an hour strolling from hall to hall on covered walkways, admiring the beautifully designed gardens. Reaching all the way to the top pavilion has some kind of a meditative effect. Plus, it gives you enough time to walk off the moisture from your wet socks as you have to leave your shoes at the entrance!

Eikando Temple zen garden

Take a bath

Nothing will make your tired limbs forget the strains of walking in rain like a hot bath.

If the bathtub in your AirBnB or hotel room looks too tiny for a decent soak, you can try a public sento bath. They are almost as ubiquitous as temples although not as easy to spot, at least for an untrained eye. Just make sure to get acquainted with the etiquette first. That means no bathing suits, strictly separated by gender and thorough scrubbing first.

If you want to take the whole relaxation thing up a notch treat yourself to a night in an onsen ryokan (which should be on your to-do list when visiting Japan anyway). We stayed in an onsen hotel in Kawaguchiko. I chose it after thorough research so that we could enjoy unobstructed view of Mt. Fuji. In the end, we could hardly see as far as the lake across the street due to all the rain and fog, but the outdoor jacuzzi bath on the top floor made me care less about all that.

Jaccuzzi bath in Kyoto AirBnB home
Our precious … THE highlight of our Kyoto AirBnB home

Grab a bite

Japanese food easily merits a trip to Japan in its own right (and a separate blog post to follow soon). It was one of the main reasons for our trip and I would go back in an instant just to feast on all the delicacies some more. We started out expecting to eat a lot of sushi. In the end, we ate everything but sushi (twice doesn’t even count) and we loved every single meal. Even the bento boxes that we picked up at train stations were delicious.

Japanese chef preparing sashimi

Kaiseki lunch in Kyoto

Visit a cat café

Cat cafés are another invention that successfully spread from Japan around the world. Technically, the first cat café was in Taiwan (thanks Wikipedia!) but the concept really took off in Japan. So, if you ask me, visiting one can be considered as a cultural experience on a level with a trip to a modern art gallery (Yes, I am a cat person, why do you ask?).

As with everything else in Japan, the house rules in cat cafés are pretty strict. The time is limited, you are not allowed to grab the cats, but should patiently wait if they grant you a couple of minutes of their attention (which in my case they didn’t) and you should under no circumstances feed or disturb them with anything too shiny or rustling.

Kyoto cat cafe
Obviously cats love some people more than others…

Not a fan of cats? Don’t worry, Japanese have you covered: there’s owl and hedgehog cafés too.

Owl cafe Kyoto

Shop until you drop

If all else fails, there’s still shopping. Japanese shops are just different enough to be interesting even if you hate shopping. The abundance and selection of stationery at the Tokyu Hands department store alone could keep me entertained for hours. Food stores and markets like Nishiki in Kyoto are a world of aromas, colours and unusual items that qualify as food. Come hungry and just eat your way through it would be my recommended approach.

And then there are all kinds of specialised shops selling incense, knives, colourful lacquerware cups, chopsticks, handmade paper and even calligraphy brushes. Not to forget all the girly fashion in Tokyo’s Harajuku, timeless design stores and unique Japanese brands – the list could go on and on. Even if you don’t intend to buy anything it’s worth browsing around.

Vegetables at Nishiki market in Kyoto

Calligraphy supplies shop in Kyoto

I could think of a couple of other things to do, but those were our top picks. What would be yours?