Rainy Season in Japan
Throughout most of Japan, including Uji (Kyoto), the rainy season lasts from the beginning of June until the middle of July. The Japanese word for this rainy season is Tsuyu, which translates to “Plum Rain”, as it coincides with plums ripening country wide. This monsoon season is caused by cool air from the north converging with warm ocean air flowing from the south. This results in a relatively stable weather front over Japan for several weeks, with gray skies, humidity, and rain. It may not necessarily rain every day, but expect cloudy skies the entire time.
Although the rainy season can be full of muggy days and damp nights, there is a big bright spot during this month of rain: hydrangeas in bloom. These vividly colored, round clusters of flowers dot the streets and alleyways of Japan, and are the perfect cure for rainy day blues.
In Uji, Kyoto, there is a temple named Mimurotoji famed for 1,200 years of stunning garden offerings. Its Hydrangea Garden is composed of thousands of plants representing over fifty species of hydrangea. The garden at Mimurotoji sprawls from the vermilion entrance gate p towards the stairs to the main hall, with paths meandering through the colorful blooms.
Heart-shaped hydrangeas are hidden amongst the many thousands of other hydrangeas with more traditional globe shape. It’s said that those who discover a heart-shaped flower head will have their love wishes granted. Visitors have been sharing photos of their discoveries on social media, revealing a number of flower-filled hearts in a wide variety of different colors.
Second Tea Harvest
There is another bright spot to the rainy season. The second tea harvest also starts in June in Uji, Kyoto. About 2 weeks after the first harvest (mid-April to mid-May), new buds start to grow and approximately 45 days later these new leaves are ready for another harvest.
The reason that the summer harvested tea cannot beat the quality, flavor, or aroma of the spring harvest is because the tea plants store plenty of nourishment during the winter and grow slowly in the cold weather under shade. This ensures tender, green, flavorful leaves that are perfect for the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. After the first harvest, the tea leaves grow very fast in the warmer, wetter weather with more sun, even though they are still shaded. The L-Theanine, a main source of the Umami taste of tea, is three times higher in the first harvest than the second harvest tea leaves.
But don’t let this keep you from picking up summer harvested matcha, culinary matcha, or second harvest matcha. Second harvest matcha is still rich in catechins and L-Theanine, just expect some bitterness and astringency, making it best for lattes, smoothies, baking, cooking, and milkshakes.