A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

Enjoy the Moss, but Get Rid of the Mold and Mildew- During Japan`s Rainy Season

By Avi Landau

Most days during Japan’s month-long rainy season (tsuyu), are overcast and damp, even when there is no actual precipitation. When it IS raining, it is as if your town or city has been transported into the shadowy depths of a thick, wet , forest. It can stay like that for days. For this reason, Japan is a veritable paradise for MOSS (koke苔), which thrives in such conditions. Taking a June stroll, umbrella in hand, within the precincts of some old shrine or temple is like an in-depth tour into the WORLD OF GREEN, with  mosses of varying degrees of verdure growing on stones, tree trunks, or the ground, forming delightful combinations.

It is clear that the darkness of the rainy season and the deep warm shades of moss have had a huge impact on Japanese aesthetics. For example, compare the Buddhist temples or clothes from the brighter lands of India or Thailand, with those of Japan. In the sunnier countries they  often have bright, bold or shimmery colors and surfaces, which are necessary to keep them from being  washed out by the brightness of the sun. In shadowy Japan, different , darker , colors, more natural and earthy , came to be utilized and loved. Moss and moss green have been an important part of this sensibility. This can be seen most clearly in Japanese gardening and landscaping, the cultivation of miniature trees (bonsai) and in fabric design.

There are several temples which are actually famous for their moss gardens*, including Saiho-Ji and Gio-ji in Kyoto. Nearer to Tsukuba is Myoho-Ji in Kamakura. (Did you know that JR trains can be taken directly to Kamakura from Tsuchiura or Ushiku Stations during the summer?) These are nationally renowned Koke-dera (moss temples), but it is by no means necessary to leave our city to partake in the pleasures of moss viewing. As I mentioned above, the sacred grove of any shrine or the grounds of any temple will do, especially on rainy days.

Unfortunately, the same conditions which allow moss to thrive are favored by various types of mould and mildew, and foreigners who come to live in Japan are driven to despair by their relentless proliferation. Walls, books, photos, are all common victims. Once I discovered that a pair of white sneakers I wanted to wear had turned black with mould! Then in the same shoe cubby I found that a formerly black pair of shoes had turned white!  This is  not just a nuisance-it is a health hazard as well.

Of course, mildew is a problem for the Japanese, too, but since their ancestors have had to deal with the problem for millennia, there are plenty of bits  of folk knowledge passed down from generation to generation which help  to cope.

The most important point to remember is good ventilation. Make sure that the air in a particular room does not stagnate too long. Whenever the sun DOES shine you might want to let its rays do their work on anything you are worried might get mouldy. Remember: the light of day is the best disinfectant!

A mouldy wall in Tsukuba

A more recently developed trick for dealing with mold was introduced to me by Harumi Takaya, who is always a great source of information about traditional life in Tsukuba. This is the use of baking soda. For example, baking soda mixed in with your laundry detergent at a ratio of 3 to 1 will prevent your laundry from getting moldy (if like most Japanese, you don’t have a dryer). Putting a mixture of baking soda and water into a spray bottle and spritzing it on the walls etc… is also a good idea.

Don’t let the darkness and the rain get you down! Go out and explore Japans endless SHADES OF GREEN! For the summer months THESE are the Emerald Isles!

I have also written about the many different words for rain in the Japanese language here:


Some ideas for preventing mold:

Leave doors and window open for as much time as possible each day

Leave shoes outside the front door (this can be done all year round

Wipe the bathroom dry each time after using ( you can also use one of the latest mold killing (KABI KIRA) chemicals sold at any drug store

Use duck-boards (sunoko) in the closet and drawers

Save the packs of desicants from snack packages and put them in drawers and cases

Use a de-humidifier


Good luck!


* The Japanese have always set strict restrictions on artistic form to challenge creative minds and ultimately achieve occassional sublimity.

Some examples are: Origami- making paper figures without the use of scissors, or any cutting for that matter.

Kabuki: The Tokugawa Shogante set a restriction on those who could perform- men, from midle age and up. This created the challenge of drawing people into the theater without the availability of any beautiful women or youthful men.

The moss garden: Making a beautiful garden with thousands of colorful flowers would be too easy! Try making one with only stones and moss!

A close-up of some moss growing in Teshirogi, Tsukuba

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