Ten tips for staying warm in Japan
By Joe Meadows
Winter is settling in and by now chances are you’re spending a good bit of your day shivering. Though it never really gets super cold outside in Hiroshima, the problem is that the indoors never really get very warm, either. So this month I’d like to share some of my suggestions for keeping warm at school and home.
1. Layers, Layers, Layers!
This may go without saying, but take sweaters, cardigans, or a small blanket (better yet, an electric blanket) to work with you. Leave them there if you are able to. The layers of clothing really help because the office can be a lot colder on some days than others depending on the weather.
2. Stash a secret heater.
If you’re lucky enough to spend most of your time at one school, hide a small space heater under your desk out of sight. They are secret because many schools have a no space heater policy, but they don’t always enforce it. Having a secret space heater is definitely going to be a school-by-school situation.
3. Heat the space you are in.
This is the Japanese mindset on heating in a nutshell. At home or school, the room you are not in is going to be cold. Some people during their first winter try to heat their entire house or apartment. Attempting this will only end in defeat, however. Either your heating equipment won’t be up to the task, or you will achieve it with whopper bills at the end of the month.
4. Get up close and personal with your kotatsu.
That little Japanese table with the heat source on the underside will be your savior and your destroyer. Under the blankets of the kotatsu, sipping your favorite hot drink (I recommend hot buttered rum), you will find that warm nirvana that eludes you at school. Be warned, though, that its warm embrace will crush your will to do anything productive. Throw in item number 5 and you will never leave home again.
5. Nabe, baby!
This hot pot is great during the cold months. Fire up the burner and invite a few of your friends to bring an ingredient to cook. Throw whatever you think would taste good together into the pot. Combine this with the aforementioned kotatsu and a movie rented from the local rental shop you have a wonderfully warm evening to share with friends.
6. Get even more intimate with the kotatsu.
Here’s a tip stolen right from the Facebook page of the brilliant Jonathan Bridger. While you are getting ready in the morning, toss your undies under the kotatsu. When you put them on, they will caress all the right parts in a gentle warm hug.
7. Load up on those handy hand warmers.
Called hokkairo in Japanese, you’ll see your students, your co-workers, and even your cantankerous kouchou-sensei carrying around these little bags of chemical heat. Carry them in your pocket to warm the hands or buy the kind that adhere to your clothes to keep important body parts warm and ready. Some of these can get quite hot, though, so use with caution.
8. Take a long, hot soak.
Hit the local onsen by yourself, with a friend, or a stranger. Soaking up the heat from these pools of water can really drive the chill from your bones. If the onsen isn’t your cup of tea, a good alternative is visiting your local drug store or Tokyu Hands to pick up one of those wild packets of bath salts, which will give you a good excuse to soak in the tub in the comfort of your own home. The “Tyrant Habanero” bath salts turn the bath water bright orange and there are others that turn it bright red, all the better to pretend you’re soaking in volcanic hot springs, I suppose.
Tyrant Habanero bath salts
9. Don’t waste that warm bath water.
Get a yutampo (hot water bottle) and fill it with some of that hot bath water. Stick it under the covers at the foot of your bed to keep your toes warm at night.
10. Forget fashion.
Buy some baba shirts or ojii pants (baba being a derogatory term for old ladies and ojii referring to old men). These are thin, tight thermal undergarments that older folks wear to keep warm through the winter. You can get them pretty cheap at UniQlo, and while they look like something your grandparents might don, young people wear them now too (they just might be too cool to admit it).
These are just 10 suggestions I hope you find helpful, though there are doubtless many other clever ways to make winter in Japan a little more bearable. If you have some of your own secrets to keeping toasty, please share in the comments!