June marks the start of the rainy season throughout much of Japan. But unlike the sprawling metropolises of Tokyo and Osaka, Kyoto isn’t crowded with skyscrapers and shopping malls. Rather, it’s filled with open-air gardens, plus temples and shrines. So what do you do in Kyoto when the rain drops start to fall?
1. Visit a museum in Kyoto
Temples and shrines aren’t the only way to get a hit of history in Kyoto. There are many museums and galleries throughout the city. The Kyoto National Museum is one of only four national museums in Japan, with rotating and permanent exhibitions that highlight Japan’s history and culture. And if you still need a temple fix, the mostly-indoor attraction of Sanjusangen-do is just across the street.
The Museum of Kyoto has exhibitions focused on Japanese art and culture, but also features international exhibitions, like the recent “Leonardo da Vinci and The Battle of Anghiari” display. Best of all, any exhibits on the first floor are free to see. #cheapowinning
Art lovers can check out the Museum of Modern Art and the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, both near Heian Shrine. While special exhibitions usually cost extra, some are free, or cost as little as ¥430 to enter. Other museums around Kyoto focus on subjects as varied as pottery, trains, and manga (see below). So there’s bound to be a museum where you’d be happy to while the day away.
2. Read some manga
Manga cafes allow you to stay for as long as you wish (24 hours!), with unlimited drinks, internet access, a selection of game consoles and, of course, plenty of manga to read. The cost of these cafes differ based on the time you stay and facilities, but value packs are often available.
On the other hand, if you’re not confident about your Japanese reading ability or the chances of finding English books, you can always head to the Kyoto International Manga Museum for a large collection of foreign-language manga. The downsides here are the opening hours, and that drinks from the cafe are extra. You’ll have to learn Japanese if you want to be really cheapo!
3. Go window shopping around Teramachi Street
How cheapo this activity is depends on your self-control. But even if you don’t buy anything, the covered shopping streets of Teramachi, Shinkyogoku, Nishikikoji, Shijo, and Kawaramachi are interesting to wander around. The two main shopping streets are Teramachi and Shinkyogoku. These parallel streets together offer a wide range of shops, restaurants and miscellaneous items.
Here, you can buy everything from budget souvenirs to expensive but beautiful artworks and secondhand books. If you want to kill a significant amount of time, you can catch a movie at the MOVIX cinema, or while away the hours at the game arcades. You can even get a temple fix by visiting the few small shrines and temples that are dotted along the streets (Teramachi actually translates as “Temple Street”). One of them is the infamous Honnoji Temple, the site where Oda Nobunaga was betrayed and killed.
Off Teramachi Street is Nishiki Market, known as “Kyoto’s Pantry”. While this shopping street is also covered, it’s much narrower and therefore more crowded, but certainly an interesting place to see and try local fresh food. Then there are the two main thoroughfares in the area: Shijo and Kawaramachi Streets. These are regular streets (with heavy traffic!) but the sidewalks are sheltered from the rain, and offer more conventional shopping options like department stores, international chains like H&M, and a huge bookstore in the basement of the BAL building.
4. Burn some energy at ROUND1
Also on Kawaramachi Street is the entertainment centre ROUND1. Here, you can play indoor sports like ten-pin bowling, billiards, and darts. Or if that’s not your thing, belt out your favorite song at karaoke, or race against your friends at the arcade. Perhaps the best part of this option is that it’s open 24 hours during weekends and public holidays, and open 22 hours every other day.
5. Just deal with it!
Has rainy season been dragging on? Feel like you’re going to sigh if you see yet another samurai-related artifact? Already spent your shopping allowance? What else can you do in the rain?!
Well, you can get your umbrella out and just deal with it. Rainy season is also hydrangea season in Japan. These flowers thrive in wet conditions, and add a big pop of color to the otherwise grey days. The town of Ohara to the north of Kyoto is home to Sanzen-in Temple, while Uji to the south hosts Mimurotoji Temple. Both of these are famous for their hydrangea gardens. Sanzen-in also boasts a beautiful moss garden that looks luscious in the rain. Get your raincoat on!
This post was first published in 2016 and was last updated by Lily Crossley-Baxter in March, 2019. While we do our best to ensure accuracy, details may vary.
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