It’s that time of year again when stores start putting out the rain boots and umbrellas, you can hear the frogs croaking out in the rice paddies, and hydrangeas are abloom! June through early July means rain and humidity, and the rainy season can really put a damper on things if you’re not prepared.
Especially if you’re a wife in Japan like me, even doing things like laundry or hanging out the futons can become a monumental task when you can never catch a weekend where they won’t get soaked hanging outside. But don’t worry- keep reading on for some tips on how not to keep the rainy season from becoming a total wash.
Futons & Laundry
The biggest concern you’ll probably have during the rainy season is how to get all that laundry done without having to take a trip to the coin laundry every week.
Most modern bathrooms are outfitted space to hang a long bar over the bath for laundry hanging purposes. Measure the space and buy a bar at your local home center to put in if your bathroom doesn’t already have one.
If it’s not, it’s pretty easy to install a long, adjustable bar anywhere in your house. We have one running from wall to wall in our laundry area, and it’s study enough for hanging small loads.
If you can’t do either, try buying a futon rack so you can start hanging your laundry and futon inside. The best ones are the ones that fold up and allow for easy storage when not being used. If you’re short on space for one like us, we tend to hang hangers from the high curtain railings above the sliding window doors that lead out into the veranda to get the job done.
Humidity isn’t just annoying because it makes you sweat outside; it can also lead to mold and mites in your home. One of the best ways to combat these nasties is to air out your place on sunny days by opening all the windows and doors and letting the breeze in.
Most people have limited space in their house, and during or before summer begins, pack up their winter clothes and bedding to put into storage. However, because of the humidity, you’ll need to use storage bags or boxes that protect against mites and moisture intake or your winter stuff might not come out so fresh when you pull it out later during the year. I personally prefer to use the space bag type ones you can suck the excess air out of using a vacuum cleaner for the best use of space, but really anything like this will work.
If you sleep on a futon, especially if you have traditional flooring, you’ll want to hang your futon outdoors on sunny days or inside on rainy ones. If you don’t have space for a futon hanger, invest in some moisture absorbing sheets/packs, called shikketori, to put between you and floor. They’ll help absorb moisture and sweat to keep mold and mites away. When the sheets indicate a certain amount of moisture has been absorbed, you can hang them outside on a sunny day to dry and then reuse them again.
The most common kinds are the ones you hang in your closet, or the ones comprised of moisture catching beads that turn into jelly when used up. The latter are put into each dresser drawer face down and you just change them out with new ones when they’re all used up. You can find them at any supermarket, drugstore, or home center. Just to be safe, I suggest washing your whites as often as you can during the humid months. Shikketori or other odor eaters can also be used to keep your clothing looking and smelling fresh. Humidity has a habit of turning whites yellow and giving your clothes a somewhat rank odor.
Or second apartment was especially hell when it was humid out, so we invested in a dehumidifier, called a joshitsuki in Japanese, for our bedroom. It collects the moisture from the air/room into a pot you can easily pour out when full. A good one will likely run you 20,000 yen ($200+ USD) new, but you can often find them for 10,000 yen ($100 USD) or less secondhand or at a recycle shops. There’s a good guide to dehumidifiers in Japan over at Surviving in Japan.
Commuting and Getting Around
If you ride a bike or motorcycle to work, or a scooter like me, you’ll definitely want to invest in some rain gear. If you fit outside standard S-LL Japanese sizing, you might want to consider bringing your own from home. If you’re looking to invest in name brand rain gear, like Columbia or The North Face, buy it back home unless you want to pay 2-3 times the price in Japan.
Rain gear in Japan usually consists of a rain suit (pants and jacket set) or a kappa, which is like a thick rain poncho. I have both. I like the poncho because it has a lightweight hood and visor I can tuck under my helmet so my face doesn’t get very wet, but because it doesn’t offer my legs much protection I tend to wear it with the pants part of the rain suit.
You can also minimize rain in your face by buying a full face helmet, although sometimes it means your peripheral vision isn’t as great while driving and the visor part can fog up, so keep that in mind.
I also suggest investing in a waterproof bag or backpack to use when commuting so your stuff doesn’t get drenched on the way to wherever you’re going. I think it’s pretty much common sense wherever that handing customers/students drenched documents or coming in looking like a sewer rat isn’t very professional. 😉
You can also waterproof your shoes with waterproofing spray sold at most 100 yen stores and home centers.
Man, do I hate kabi (mold). I’m actually allergic to it, which makes it even worse. If you’re lucky, most of the mold you’ll see will be limited to your bathroom. The black kind is pretty easy to wash away with Kabi Killer, while the orange kind might take a little more Bath Magic + scrubbing action on your part.
If you find the fuzzy green mold on your tatami or wood work, spray ethanol alcohol cleanser and gently scrub until its removed. Then air out the room using by opening all the windows and doors, or by using a floor fan aimed at the place now damp from scrubbing. You can treat black mold the same way, but by that point its likely to have stained the tatami/wood.
Mites & Other Nasty Bugs
There seems to be some confusion amongst the foreign community, but mites, called dani in Japanese, are not bed bugs. All homes in Japan have mites, especially during the humid summer months, as proven by Japanese TV shows where they go in and measure the amount of mites in even the cleanliest of best housekept homes. Most mites are somewhat microscopic and you probably won’t see them. If you’re allergic to mites or have a large infestation, you might wake up itchy from sleeping on your bedding or futon.
There are various kinds of sprays to keep mites away or get rid of infestations, but the best way to combat mites is by direct sunlight and keeping moisture out of your home. Mites love moisture. So do other nasties like mukade, poisonous Japanese centipedes, often found in rural parts on Japan. Keep some bug spray on hand to kill any creepy crawlies you see on contact during the summer months. In rural areas like mine, large spiders, often of the Huntsman variety, can crawl in after you’ve left the windows and doors open to air out the house and you don’t want to be unprepared.
You can keep mites and mothballs out of your clothes by putting repellant tabs in your drawers or hanging repellants for your closet. There are also hanging repellants for use around your veranda door with brands Mushi Konazu or Mushiyoke.
Although I haven’t had a big problem with them, some people get gokiburi (roaches), in the summer. I think generally as long as you don’t have an infestation, you’re really good about keeping food waste in a trashcan with a lid, and you take your trash out every trash day, you likely won’t have a problem with them either. Still, there’s a variety of roach sprays on the market, as well as combat poison tabs and roach sticky traps called gokiburi hoi hoi that are popular. Just be careful if you have pets, because the tabs are just as poisonous to them and the sticky traps are really strong. Once time our cat, Dakota, got caught in one and we actually had to cut the trap off him.
Mosquitoes can also be a problem and for their tiny size, they leave pretty big bites. Be prepared with a tube of Muhi, a brand of anti-bug bite itch cream. We use a type of repellant you spray in any room and it keeps the mosquitoes away for at least 8 hours. We spray it before we go to bed in the bedroom and it works great. It’s a bit pricey at about 1,000 yen ($10 USD) a bottle, but it usually lasts about 3 months if you use it everyday so you get a good bang for your buck out of it. Japan also has the more traditional mosquito repellant incense and coils as well.
Whew! That ended up being longer than I had anticipated. But hey, I think if you follow all the tips above that you’ll be pretty much set for the rainy season. Think I missed something? Let me know in the comments!