Winter in Japan varies where you are visiting, but most of the country gets consistently to 0 degrees Celsius of colder during the winter, so it gets pretty cold… at least to me. I went from not knowing anything about how to survive winter being a native Floridian to being thrown into the Kyoto cold when I first moved to Japan, so here are 5 tips from a native Floridian on how to survive winter in Japan.
Layering Clothing and UNIQLO Heattech
This may seem obvious for some people, but I was never taught layering or even how to “winter” properly being a native Florida and in fact, I never even owned a “proper” coat until about last year. When I mean proper I mean investing in a coat that is thick and made to last years…. I always bought cheap under $100 USD coats that didn’t last very long and weren’t very warm. I now have a coat from my favorite clothing brand NOELA that is a short duffle that doesn’t button but zips up in navy with a fur hood and I am in love with it! It goes with everything and the next coat investment I want to make is a medium size single breasted coat that is a bit more classic, but that will be probably for next winter.
Layering is extremely important to survive the winter here in Japan as when you are outside you want to bundle up but in the harsh heater inside you don’t want to bake and sweat like a pig. I ALWAYS check the weather in the morning and see how cold it will get is the first step. I practically live in jeans and sweaters during the winter with the occasional skirt and dress if I feel like dressing up, but in those cases I will make sure I have a thick cardigan and wear UNIQLO Heattech.
In the west we have “long johns”, or undergarments made to keep you warm but in Japan UNIQLO has heattech technology that is similar but so much more light weight and is extremely affordable at around $12 or 1000 yen. They have all different of types, such as tank tops, short sleeve, long sleeve, boat neck, crew neck, turtle neck, everything you can imagine! They have socks and bottoms as well for those who’s legs get cold easily. Another key element for me in winter in Japan is cashmere, which once again I find cheaply at UNIQLO. Cashmere is thick and soft sweater material that keeps you super warm and its quite expensive. UNIQLO has good quality cashmere for a great price, normally 8999 yen (USD $88) and on sale it can get down to 6999 yen ($68 USD). Not just sweaters, but scarfs too. I get cashmere infused socks for 1000 yen for 3 pairs at TUTUANA, a socks and tights store here and they are my favorite socks to wear during the winter.
Kairo Hand Warmers
Hand warmers are a LIFE SAVER and I had no idea they existed until l moved to Japan, as I don’t even think they are a thing in the US (although I didn’t live in a area that got real winter weather… Florida is either hot or HOT HOT…) I don’t like wearing gloves unless I’m outside for a long period of time, which is not on a daily basis for me. BUT my hands get extremely cold and having a hand warmer on me during the winter is a must for me. I buy a huge pack of them at the beginning of the season and normally I use a few a week so a pack of about 24 lasts me for the entire winter season. There are two types: Stick (貼る) and non-stick (貼らない). I always get the non-stick because I like to hold it in my hands, but the stick kind you can stick on your cloths or body under your clothes to keep you warm or stick them inside your shoes. I prefer to control by body temperature through layering my clothes, so I do not use this option usually.
Onsen are hot springs in Japan and I cannot survive winter without them! There are so many local onsen around the Kansai area where I live and I like to go on a day trip out there and eat a nice meal and hop into the hot spring, especially the outside ones called Rotenburo「 露天風呂」. I love the contrast between the hot bath and the cool air; I always feel refreshed afterwards! Some places in Kansai I recommend for a day trip are Arima Onsen in Hyogo and Awajishima in Hyogo, they are both day trips and you can find day-trip plans that have food included. One last tip is that to go into these hot springs you will have to go to a hotel or ryokan. There are normally many options in the area for budget and for splurge so I recommend researching a bit before going and book ahead of time for the best trip.
Now and alternative for people who do not like to get naked is foot baths that most of these onsen have as well. Warm up by soaking your feet in the warm hot springs!
Heated Blanket and Kotatsu
Heated blankets aren’t revolutionary either, but in Japan the heater and air conditioning are not central air conditioning so it gets very drafty and cold easily. At night most people do not sleep with the heater on and opt to use a heated blanket instead. I slept with the heater on the first few winters in Japan and it was way too dry and didn’t help at all so I decided to pick up a heated blanked instead. They are easy to find on Amazon or at your local Bic Camera/ Yodobashi camera and are normally decently priced at about 5000 yen, or $49 USD and I have had mine for over 5 years not and its going strong.
A kotatsu is basically a heated table with a blanket over it to keep the inside warm and a lot of Japanese people live in them during the winter to save on electricity. I actually prefer the heated blanket to as in my apartment we do not have a lot of space to sit under it even though we have one. If you want to try one out there are actually restaurants that you can sit under a Kotatsu and eat a nice mean, usually nabe!
Take the Underground Passages
If you are in a big city in Japan there are almost always underground passages in the main parts of the city. I live in Osaka and the entirety of Umeda is basically accessible underground, which is perfect when it is a bitter cold day. Shibuya in Tokyo is also another good example of where a lot of main attractions, like Shibuya 109, are all accessible via underground passages. They can be a bit of a maze, but if you read the maps and follow the signs carefully you can successfully navigate almost anywhere, while staying toasty!
How do you survive winter in Japan or winter where you live? Are there any special things that you do to keep warm? Let me know in the comments below!