Growing up in America, the “rainy season” meant saying “April showers mean May flowers.”  Did it really rain more in April?  I have no idea.  I don’t remember any real increase in precipitation come April.  Maybe there were a few days, a few moments when my mother would put out those horrible galoshes for me to wear to school. (Which I never did.  My one experience wearing “Moon Boots” to school taught me to never put function above style before the age of 21.)  Rather than a season, in the Northeast it just rained throughout the entire year — sometimes a thunderstorm, sometimes “sun showers,” sometimes just a little something to start the day.  It was rare to get a full day of rain, much less a week.  To deal with the wet weather, my family owned “slickers,” the aforementioned galoshes and a few umbrellas.   These were buried in the closet, accessible when needed, but more often forgotten.

Turns out that when Japanese people say that the rainy season is coming, they really really mean it.  The rainy season starts in June and goes until mid-July.  It is called tsuyu which translates to “plum rain” as it coincides with the plum harvest.  It rains pretty much every day.  All day.  And it goes on for a long time.  I like rain, so at first, I think, “no problem!” I gather my umbrella, I whistle Gene Kelly, I enjoy the moisture on my skin.  However, after a few days, it begins to get oppressive.  I realize that my jeans are always wet, my shoes damp; my laundry is never really dry because I can’t hang it outside (and even if I could, it wouldn’t matter as the air holds firm at 90% humidity).  My bike — my sole means of transport — becomes chancey.  I can ride with an umbrella, which is dangerous and somewhat useless as my pants always get soaked.  I envy the moms who have purchased the wrap-around windshield/rain protector for their bicycles.  Actually, what I envy is all Japanese people’s knowledge for how to deal with the deluge.  I have tried to imitate.  During one hard rain, I stopped in a 7-11 and bought a full-on plastic cape thing with a hood and buttons.  My shoes, the bottoms of my pants were drenched but I was basically dry and thought I had finally learned something.  Wrong.  Taking off my ill-weather gear I ended up just transferring all that water to my dry clothes and then was stuck with the reality of what the hell to do with the pancho itself.  Bring it in the restaurant?  Put it back in the bag?  Leave it outside?  I didn’t know and ended up trying to fold it up (more moisture on me) and couldn’t quite do it neatly enough to fit all the way back into the bag. I brought it inside where it created an embarrassing puddle.  Please note: Causing a puddle in Tokyo is a bad, bad thing.  There is a sign in my subway station that states: “FOLLOW GOOD MANNERS” and has an illustration of an oblivious looking guy, carrying a rolled umbrella. There is a minor puddle where the point of his umbrella meets the subway floor.  In the drawing, a female passenger gazes upon this breach of etiquette with outrage.   Try as I might — tapping, shaking, rapidly extending the umbrella in an in-and-out fashion — I cannot achieve maximum dryness.  By the time I am on the subway, I might as well be the model for NOT FOLLOWING GOOD MANNERS.  I suspect outraged looks, but I am too ashamed to lift my gaze.  All shops provide umbrella stands at the entrance and some provide disposable covers for a wet umbrella — a condom if you like.  This prophylactic keeps the moisture in, but just like a real condom, liquid gathers at the tip. If you are me, it is near impossible to free your umbrella without this shameful water getting all over yourself.

Back when I owned a shop in New York, a Japanese customer called, frantically, concerned that she had left her umbrella at the shop.  I looked around and could not locate it.  She called back once a week for about a month to see if it had turned up.  At the time, I thought she was crazy.  I saw umbrellas, like lighters, existing in a perpetual state of lending — you bought one, lost one, picked one up, sometime you would end up with three and the next day you would find yourself empty-handed.  Well, I wrong about this.  While you can buy a $3 umbrella in a convenience store, many Japanese people spend real money on umbrellas — $100, sturdy, dependable rain protectors that shield the body and dry easily.  Not something you lose without a fight.  I have not spent money on an umbrella and find myself maligning the cheapos as they easily turn inside-out in the wind and the metal spokes separate from the plastic, creating an off-balance spout that dribbles down your neck.  It does not help that I am of a terrible height for navigating busy, Tokyo streets with an umbrella.  I am not tall enough to soar above others but have just enough height that I often get jammed up by a passerby’s umbrella capturing the underside of mine.  In order to make it down the street, I have to constantly execute a move similar to a drum major handling their baton in a marching band.  It does not aid in keeping me dry.

So, what to do in this season of downpours?  Well, nothing.  Or rather keep trying, as with everything else in my life, to learn and master these details of Tokyo life.  Perhaps one day I will be wise enough to purchase (and not immediately lose) a killer umbrella that I always have on hand. I will also get a proper rain pancho that I can wear while cycling and be able to fold said pancho like an origami master. The future will be bright and eventually, benevolent eyes will gaze upon me during the tsuyu season, as I stand in the subway dry, un-puddled and the absolute model of FOLLOWING GOOD MANNERS.


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