In June, the rainy season hits Japan in full force. Called 梅雨 (tsuyu, "plum rain" because this is the time plums ripen), this wet weather continues until mid July and can put a real damper on your travel plans. But fear not, KyoTours Japan is here to offer some suggestions for what to do in Kyoto when the weather takes a turn for the worst.
But first, the ultimate rainy day tip for Kyoto: Carry around an extra pair of socks for when you take your shoes off to enter temples. If your shoes end up soaked from the rain, you don't want to be that foreigner walking through a temple with soggy socks! Maybe bring along a hand towel from you hotel to dry off your bag or jacket as well. If your jacket or poncho is soaked, there's almost never anywhere to hang it in temple entrances, so feel free to fold it up carefully and place it next to your shoes on the shoe rack when entering buildings. This isn't normal protocol, but it's better than dripping all over the place!
The actual "castle" here is long gone due to fire, but the original palace of the Tokugawa shoguns is still intact and stands as one of the best examples of the former luxury that Kyoto was known for. From the magnificent golden gate to the expansive audience halls adorned with vivid paintings of eagles and tigers, the Ninomaru Palace is a sight worth seeing. Best of all, it's all indoors. The gardens surrounding the palace are wonderful year round, but you can skip them if the rain proves to be to heavy. Nijo Castle is also is an excellent alternative to the Imperial Palace if you don't get a chance to make it over there.
I often rate this temple as he most impressive sight in the whole city thanks to the 1001 golden Buddha statues lined up in the long wooden hall. It's an impressive indoor display, and highly recommended for visitors who have a particular interest in statues and woodworking. It's conveniently located across the street from the Kyoto National Museum, another great indoor attraction. This fantastic temple is part of our half day Kyoto Highlights Tour.
This expansive temple is laid out over the hillside on the eastern edge of the city. It's a bit of a walk to get to if you're coming from the subway (Keage Station on the Tozai Line) so you might want to just take a taxi, but once you arrive it's a fully indoor and covered temple. Perfect for rainy days. Not only are there some wonderful gardens here, but benches and sitting areas to admire them from. The small Buddha statue at the end of the labyrinth of walkways and corridors is the main treasure of this temple, and features Buddha in a very unique pose as if beckoning us to follow him. Eikando is particularly beautiful in the autumn when the leaves change color. This out-of-the-way temple complex is featured in our full day Higashiyama Culture Tour.
This covered market is PERFECT for a rainy day! Some of the shops here date back centuries, and all are filled with interesting local food and crafts. Lots of free samples, and a great place to pick up some casual lunch as you walk. Perfect chance to do some souvenir shopping if you want to bring back from Kyoto pickles, candy, or tea. Gets busy on rainy days, so come early. Nishiki Market is part of our full day Kyoto Grand Tour. More info on the market here.
Kyoto National Museum
A wonderful collection of Japanese art and treasures that is both succinct and all-encompassing. From ancient Jomon pots and tools to Meiji Era woodblock prints, this museum has it all. The modern building houses the permanent collection, while the Victorian-style hall showcases revolving exhibits. Across the street from Sanjusnagendo.
Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts Fureaikan
One of the best hidden gems as far as museums go in Japan. Located in the basement of the city conference hall, this museum walks you through the creation process of dozens of local handcrafts and traditional arts. I was not immediately interested in some of the displays, but after learning more about the detail that goes into some of this craftwork I found it fascinating. Excellent gift shop at the end with a range of affordable and high end handmade pieces. The Kyoto Handicraft Center is nearby as well, but this museum gift shop should have all your shopping needs covered. The conference hall upstairs also has various rotating exhibits and events worth checking out when you visit.
Don't write off a modern aquarium in a city filled with history. This facility is one of the best in Japan, with a heavy focus on the creatures living in Kyoto's Kamogawa River and many streams and canals. It has all the other standard aquarium fare like dolphins, penguins, etc so this is a great rainy day activity for families with kids.
Hands On Activities
Escape the rain by entering the refined world of Japanese tea at Kyugetsu tea house. Run by the only Belgian to be granted a license to practice Japanese tea ceremony, this activity is a unique chance to witness the tea ceremony up close with 100% fluent English guidance. You'll be amazed at the level of detail and dedication that goes into the rite of tea, and at Kyugetsu you can try it for yourself. This place will definitely change the way you think about tea! Reservations required. More info is available about this activity on our tea page here, or on the teahouse website.
Try your hand at some of Kyoto's traditional arts. Yuzen dyeing is a fun activity where you paint designs on fabric using layered stencils. This is the traditional technique used to paint kimonos, but you can choose from a variety of items to paint on and take home. Marumasa-Nishimuraya is a great yuzen workshop that is very English friendly. Reservations usually required, but you can maybe walk in and secure a spot. http://marumasu.sakura.ne.jp/english/
Don't assume the station is just for catching trains! With several large underground malls and the Isetan department store, there is plenty of shopping to fit all budgets. Plenty of places here to pick up some famous Kyoto souvenirs like pickled vegetables or wagashi sweets. Some of the best dining in the city (both casual and upscale) can be found in Kyoto station as well. The underground Porta area is great for lunch, and the top floors of the Isetan department store are packed with a variety of restaurants from traditional Japanese to Chinese and Italian. There's even a ramen area on the 7th floor with noodle restaurants from all over Japan! After eating, head out onto the skywalk hallway over the main atrium of the station for a great view of the city. Before you hop onto your bullet train to head back to Tokyo or onward to Osaka, stop at the wonderful Kyoto Saryo tea gallery and cafe (main atrium, second floor, across from Mister Donut). Their English friendly menu features a variety of matcha and full leaf teas served with traditional wagashi sweets and cakes. For more shopping, you can walk to Yodobashi Camera electronics store and Avanti Mall from the station via underground walkways. Don Quijote in Avanti is a must for souvenir shoppers, especially if you want to pick up some Japanese kit kats and other fun sweets.
Remember, all of our tours at KyoTours Japan operate normally during the rain (except typhoons).