Sunday, June 19, 2022

Celebrating the Rainy Season - and the Ajisai - in Japan

 -- Susan, every other Sunday

The rainy season is officially upon us here in Tokyo (and will last for another 5 weeks, after which the oppressive heat and humidity of summer will make us wish for these damp but somewhat-less-sweltering early summer days). I actually enjoy the rainy season, both for the rain itself (which is usually warm and gentle, with a few thunderstorms here and there, for good measure) and for the spectacular blossoms the June rain brings.

The flowers most associated with this part of the rainy season are ajisai (hydrangeas). Their giant, colorful blooms are everywhere in central and eastern Japan at this time of year; they thrive in acidic, volcanic soil and since they're sensitive to too much sun, the rainy season suits them perfectly.

Hydrangeas just beginning to bloom in Bunkyo Ward

The characteristics of the soil influence the color of the blooms, which range from brilliant fuchsia to deep, rich blue, delicate lavender, spotless white, and just about every color in between.

One of my favorites.

The annual ajisai festival at Hakusan Jinja in Tokyo's Bunkyo Ward has been on hold for the last few years, but was held again this year - another sign of normalcy returning. 

Another favorite. (Who am I kidding. They're all my favorites.)

The Ajisai Festival at Hakusan Jinja (photo from 2019)

Another shot from the 2019 festival

The celebration of all-things-ajisai doesn't stop with festivals and flowers, either. At this time of year, the rain-loving blossoms adorn everything from handkerchiefs to senbei (rice crackers), like the hand-painted beauty shown below. The "paint" is actually colored sugar, and the airy, crispy cracker was delicious.  

Ajisai senbei

I didn't make it to the ajisai festival this weekend, because I'd already made plans to visit Hakone with a friend - but I'm happy to report that even the Hakone ropeway is getting into the ajisai spirit. After riding the Hakone Ropeway across the crater to Owakudani (an active crater atop the mountain whose name translates "large boiling valley"):

Riding over the crater. The restaurant is the building on the crater rim, upper right.

We found this seasonal display on the window of the restaurant where we stopped for lunch:

Ajisai, umbrellas, and snails (?) to celebrate the rainy season.

The menu also featured a seasonal drink called the ajisai soda, which turned out to be a glass of sparkling lemonade served with a side of lightly sweetened, floral syrup made from butterfly pea flowers. 

The Ajisai soda...before

Butterfly pea flower syrup (or tea) starts out blue, but turns purple in the presence of citric acid. (Hello, lemonade...).

After tasting the lemonade, you pour the syrup in, and the drink transforms to the purple of ajisai.

After the transformation, the drink became a floral lemonade - I'm not sure it tasted like ajisai, but then again, I'm not sure I'd want it to. 

Partially transformed...

In any case, it was delicious, and seasonal, and delightfully purple. 

A perfect way to celebrate the beautiful blooms. When life gives you rain (and lemons), make ajisai lemonade.

I hope you all have a happy and healthy rainy season, and a lovely summer filled with fun surprises!


  1. And never forget to eat the black eggs!

    1. I love the black eggs! I brought a package home this weekend too!

  2. I remember our day there so special for me! It was a different season, so I didn't those gorgeous flowers and decorations, but I bet the crater smells the same!!.

    1. It does! And I cannot visit without remembering our wonderful time there. Fuji was not out "to visit" this time, but I'll never forget coming over the rise and seeing her with you!

  3. Susan, you succeeded in making me homesick for NW New Jersey. We have a huge hydrangea standing guard at the entrance to our farmhouse, and no matter how much we cut it back in the fall it bursts back in bloom in late spring and hangs in there throughout the summer. It's simply magnificent...though I'm not sure how tasty it would be.