How to Beat the Winter Blues

We’re in the final sprint to warmer weather, but for those of you still shivering in your apartments, here are a few last-minute tips to help you survive the next few weeks of winter. From appliance reviews to recipes, this article is packed with advice and product recommendations from your fellow JETs to help you stay warm. Plus, it’s never too early to start preparing for next year.

Warm Up With Homemade Hot Drinks

By Jannah Horvath

There is no better way to warm yourself up during the winter than with a warm cup of hot chocolate! Now that Japan has given up the sweltering heat for bitter cold, I’ve found myself constantly going for hot drinks to warm me up. However, like many other food items in Japan, the hot chocolate just isn’t the same. I prefer the sweet, creamy type of hot chocolate rather than Japan’s strong and slightly bitter flavor. Here is a recipe for homemade hot chocolate that you can change according to your own taste!

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup (80cc) Hershey’s cocoa powder, found in the baking aisle of Jupiter or other import shops.
  • 3/4 cup (180cc) white sugar to taste 砂糖 / satou, often found in the coffee aisle of grocery stores
  • A dash of salt 塩 / shio, found in the baking or spice aisle or in Daiso
  • 1/3 cup (80cc) water
  • 4 cups (940cc) milk 牛乳 / gyuunyuu, If you want a healthier or thinner hot cocoa, cartons marked 低牛乳 / teigyuunyuu contain low-fat milk.
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract バニラエッセンス バニラオイル / banira essennsu or oiru, found in the baking sections of most grocery stores.

Directions:

Mix the cocoa, sugar, salt and water in a saucepan. Stir constantly until it is boiling. Gradually add the milk until it is simmering. Take the pan off the heat and add the vanilla last. Let leftovers cool almost to room temperature before closing containers and storing in the fridge.

Kairo

By Ed McNamara

On days when you find yourself unable to pack on enough layers or hide indoors, I suggest using a kairo to save the day. Kairo are disposable hand warmers that you can easily find during winter at convenience stores, supermarkets etc. Depending on the size and variety, a box of kairo will only cost about 500 to 1000 yen. Otherwise, you can buy individual ones at convenience stores for about 50 to 100 yen each. There are two main types you should be aware of, haru (貼る) and haranai (貼らない) kairo. I really like the basic haranai or non adhesive kairo because I can carry them in my pocket, but some people like the haru kairo or the adhesive kind so that they can attach them directly to their body.

After you get your kairo, all you have to do is open it, shake it and wait for it to begin producing heat. While it takes a bit for the kairo to start warming properly, once it gets going it can last you pretty much all day. When you’re done with the kairo you can just throw it away. It’s as easy as that. Just don’t forget to pack a new one for next time!

Kerosene 灯油 / Tōyu Heaters

By Rich Kiyabu

The first question people always ask me about tōyu heaters is always, “is that the one you have to have a window open for?” Although you don’t need a window wide open, it’s a good practice to have some ventilation and to air out the room after use. The bottom line is it’s very cost effective for the amount of warmth you’ll enjoy.

Tōyu is a kerosene heater. There are two main kinds. One burns a wick and the other propels heated air, but both can get a room very toasty. They tend to dry the air too, so it’s good to put a pot of water on the wick heater or have a humidifier along with the fan heater. This way you can prevent catching a cold from excessively dry air. Tōyu can be purchased from gas stands or hardware stores. A 20 liter container costs about 2000 yen. In terms of economy, my fan heater runs for about 60 hours on 20 liters. If my heater isn’t turned up all the way, it lasts almost a month when used for a few hours each night.

I like tōyu heaters more than AC because it simultaneously saves money and dries my clothes. A couple of downsides are that the tōyu fuel containers are not easy to transport if you don’t live near a gas stand and the heater can be smelly if your machine is out of order or fuel is spilled while refilling. All in all, if you don’t want to see your electricity bills going through the roof, then try one of these out.

Drink Tea!

By Charly Draper

Some people will tell you the trick to winter is staying under the kotatsu. Personally, I think the kotatsu is the devil. Once I sit down, I don’t get up again until something like 2am when I wake up with a crick in my neck. My big tip is to drink tea! I know it seems simple, but drinking tea is a cheap, efficient and healthy way to get through winter.

First off, equip yourself with mugs at all of your schools or invest in a travel mug. Next is the fun part – stock up! Living in a land that appreciates the importance of a good cuppa, you have plenty of options. Black tea is good (and cheap), but remember that more than four cups a day can start to dehydrate you, so try to mix it up a bit. If you are a fan of green tea, good for you. The list of health benefits recognised by science seem to grow every day. Green tea can be bought cheaply, as powder, leaves or bags. If, like me, the caffeine kick from green tea leaves you shaking like a leaf, try some more calming herbal teas. Chamomile and peppermint are good for cooling your system and help if you’re suffering red cheeks from sitting too close to the school kerosene heater. Lemon or ginger teas are good for a wake-up if you’re nodding off at your desk. Flavoured black teas also abound. I have recently been indulging in the cookie flavour and caramel & rum flavour. These teas can be good for when you crave something sweet but want to minimise the inevitable winter weight gain! As an extra special treat, I like to have Indian chai. Pour ¾ water and ¼ milk over the tea bag, add a drop of honey and it’ll perk your afternoon up to no end!

Hot Carpets

By Jackie Enzmann

In my arsenal to fight the winter blues, my hot carpet, or ホットカーペット / hotto ka-petto, is without a doubt my weapon of choice. At first I was a bit skeptical of an appliance with such a silly name, but I have come to rely on it to keep me comfy during the long winter months.

A hot carpet is, as the name suggests, a heated rug. Think of it like an electric blanket for your floor. Standard hot carpet packages, which contain an electric carpet and a decorative cover, are widely available at Daiki and other home appliance stores.

Prices vary based on the size of the carpet, but you can expect to pay somewhere between 4000 and 10,000 yen. This may seem like a big investment, but hot carpets are surprisingly cheap to use once you get them home. The control panel regulates the area of carpet that you heat and the temperature, allowing you to limit the amount of electricity you use. In spite of the fact that I’ve been using my hot carpet on one of the higher settings all winter, I haven’t noticed a significant spike in my electricity bill. Also, as an added bonus for anyone with tatami mats, hot carpets include a “tatami bug killer” setting that zaps away any unwanted critters. Perhaps the only downside to using a hot carpet is that you have to sit on the floor to really benefit from the heat. This can lead to extended periods of catlike lounging, though that is the case for kotatsu and many other space heaters available in Japan. Take advantage of the many end-of-season sales going on now to buy a hot carpet and try it for yourself. You won’t regret it!