Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Tsuyu: The Rainy Season

We're supposed to be in the middle of tsuyu (梅雨, tsuyu), or the rainy season. Tsuyu is this long period of rain just before summer. It is said to be marked by consecutive rainy days, but if you asked me, it tends to be mostly cloudy, sometimes sunny, at least for Osaka. It does tend to get rather humid, which tends to affect the Japanese way of life in surprising ways.

The high humidity and moisture in the air causes mold and bacteria to grow. Clothes that are packed away or kept in the closet for a long time may get moldy and gross. Mold will grow in futon (布団, futon), pillows and bedding that is kept in the closet, or left out on the tatami. For these reasons, the Japanese have their clothes dry cleaned before putting them away. Winter clothes are packed away in air-tight plastic boxes. People that don't take the proper precautions might find mold and other unpleasant surprises when they unpack them in the winter.

To prevent mold from growing and/or getting clothes and bedding from getting all wet and sticky, the Japanese place desiccant boxes and/or dehumidifiers (湿気取り: shikketori) in their closets. Products that are useful for the season usually become available at local grocery and/or drug stores.

As the humidity and moisture begins to increase, the space between futon and tatami, or other flooring, becomes the perfect breeding ground for mold and mites (カビ, kabi, andダニ, dani respectively). Tatami are especially prone to mite infestation with the onset of Tsuyu. To prevent mold from growing under futons, and mites from infesting the tatami, the Japanese put away their futons regularly. I learned this the hard way, as I am lazy and like to leave my futon out.

I lifted my futon to put it away one day, when I noticed dark moldy spots on the white linen casing and on my tatami mats. I was grossed out beyond belief. I learned never to leave my futon out, or at the very least to put it away during tsuyu.

Something the Japanese do on a regular basis is put their futons out to air them. On bright sunny days, walking down a street, one can't help but notice futons draped over people's verandas.  You might even see a baa-chan (old lady) beating them with sticks. You can actually see as the dust drifts off and away from the futons.

Futon being hung out to air on a nice sunny day.

A few years ago, when I took my wife to America to meet my parents, she asked me "Do people not put out their clothes to dry? Their blankets? Mattresses?" I told her "Well, some people do. But mostly, people use their driers." My wife mentioned to me that she noticed that houses didn't have verandas, and if they did, there were no clothes or blankets hanging from them. "In Japan, you don't waste a sunny day. (晴天の日, seiten no hi) On a sunny day, most people put out their clothes and futon to dry in the hot sun."

During tsuyu, it may not always be possible to air out futons and bedding, so the Japanese take advantage of the "dry" features on their conditioners. They hang their mattresses over a couple of chairs, or on special racks for indoor use, and they set their air conditioners to "dry" for a couple of hours. They even sell specialized driers for futons called "futon kansoki." (布団乾燥機: futon dryer) And the Japanese are careful not to leave their futon and clothes out while they go out on errands; sudden rain can be disastrous.

 Futon airing out on a rack.

Insect repelling measures must be taken. There are insect repellents that can be placed in the closet where people keep their futons. You can buy insect repelling paper that you can spread on the floor of your closet, on which you can place your futons when you fold them up and put them away. Some people go the extra mile and buy repellent spray and apply it to the futon every once in a while. To prevent infestations, it is important for people to keep their apartment clean: clothes must not be left lying around, tatami must be vacuumed regularly.

The humidity and the summer heat also attract cockroaches (ゴキブリ, gokiburi). This is common sense, but if dishes aren't washed regularly and the kitchen isn't kept clean, this attracts cockroaches. Food must be sealed properly and crumbs shouldn't be left out lest they become food for any uninvited guests. Laying out repellents or traps is not a bad idea.

As the tsuyu begins to turn into summer, mosquitoes can be a pain in the neck. There is repellent available that can be applied to the body, but you can also use mosquito repellent vaporizers for your room. Or, if you want to be Japanesey, you could always light up one of those green mosquito coils.

 This vaporizer releases an odorless vapor that keeps away mosquitoes.

 Lighting up mosquito repellent coils is common in Japan.

Well, that's it for now. Stay tuned for more the Japanese rainy season!