This year, the rainy season seems to have come early. The official beginning here in the Kanto region, however, is typically not until early June, when the Weather Bureau officially declares the Tsuyu Iri (Entering Rainy Season). Sometime in July, they will announce the Tsuyu Ake for the end of the rainy season and the beginning of the muggy summer weather.
This relatively regular weather pattern in the climate of Japan is caused by the boundary between the warm, humid high pressure system that gradually builds up over the Pacific Ocean to the southeast of Japan and the cooler, dryer air to the north and west. A front develops between these rather stable air masses with waves of low pressure moving along the front across Japan.
This pattern first becomes prominent in late April across Okinawa and then gradually pushes farther north, sloshing back and forth as it goes. This oscillating movement of the front to the north and south is what gives us brief periods of good weather during the rainy season, when the front temporarily moves away from its average position.
By early June, the Baiu Zensen (rainy season front) has moved to where its average position is across Kyushu and Shikoku, bringing the end of the rainy season to Okinawa. This process continues until mid July, when the front breaks up over Tohoku due to the dominance of the Pacific High and a weakening of the contrast between the two air masses.
While cloudy and sometimes rainy days are predominate during this period, it is still a good time to get out and enjoy the warmer weather before the oppressive heat of summer sets in. The flowers of this season shift to ayame (a type of iris) and ajisai (hydrangea), of which there are some excellent displays in the Tsukuba area.
Probably the most famous ayame display in all of Japan is the Itako Ayame Festival, in the town of Itako, located at the far end of Lake Kasumigaura. Over 1 million ayame of about 500 varieties are in bloom along the banks of the Hitachi Tone and the Maegawa Rivers. Tour boats go up and down the rivers and on weekends, the traditional Hanayome Fune boat, with a girl dressed up like a Japanese bride, makes its journey down the river. To get there, take route 125 until it dead ends in route 51; turn left and follow that road about 10 km to the town of Itako (turning to the right). The festival lasts throughout the month of June.
There are nice displays of ayame and other kinds of iris in Tsukuba along the pond in Matsumi Park and also in the park across from Texas Instruments, which was the sight of the - 5 World's Fair (now part of the Western Industrial Park).
Hydrangea festivals are also part of this season, with the biggest being in Mito at the Howaen park in Matsumoto Cho, northwest of the downtown area. Over 5500 hydrangea bushes grace the park and are in bloom from mid June to early July (with the festival running from June 11 to July 2). The park is located between route 118 and the Naka River.
There is also a good display of hydrangeas in the park above the parking lot for the cable car going up Mt. Tsukuba (the highest point you can go up by car). The flowers there come out a bit later, and are best in early July. If you can go on a (rare) clear day, the view is spectacular. There is a 400 yen toll for the road leading up to the cable car parking lot.
A little further north along the west flank of Mt. Tsukuba range is another excellent site in Daiwa Mura at the Amabiki Rakuho Temple (A very appropriate name for the rainy season, as amabiki means attracting the rain). Over 3000 bushes dot the hillsides around the temple. The Ajisai Matsuri there is from June 20 to July 20 and is free. To get there, drive north along the west side of Mt. Tsukuba through Makabe to Daiwa Mura. The road leading up to the temple is about 6 km north of Makabe.
Famous for its peonies, the Tsukuba Botan (Peony) Park in Kukizaki also has a spectacular display of some 80,000 lilies of various varieties. The main event is on June 18. The entrance fee is 700 yen (300 yen for children), but is well worth it. The Bara (Rose) Matsuri at the Flower Park in Yasato (on the opposite side of the range of mountains running east from Mt. Tsukuba) runs through June 25, with over 30,000 rose bushes in full bloom. It's quite a site, and there are numerous other flowers to enjoy as well. The entrance fee is 640 yen (320 yen).
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