Japan is one awesome holiday destination to visit during winter. Although spring and autumn are more popular seasons among locals and tourists, travelling to Japan in winter also holds promising sights to see and activities to do.
Winter starts from December to February. However, as early as November and as late as early April, you can already feel the chilly atmosphere depending on where you’ll visit. For big cities like Osaka and Tokyo, occasional snowfall will occur but as you head up north, especially to the mountainous regions, winters are longer and temperatures will drop constantly. High levels of snowfall are likely to happen too.
Each year, more and more people are enticed to visit the land of the rising sun. For those of you who are planning or have set your travel dates to visit the coldest season of the country, there are things that you need to consider to survive winter in Japan in order to enjoy your holiday vacation.
Surely you don’t want the weather to ruin your trip, right? It’s always best to prepare for the worst, especially if you have lived most of your lives in a tropical country.
How to survive Japan during winter
So what do you exactly do to survive the winter season in the land of the rising sun? How do you stay warm in Japan during winter?
Here are 18 tips that you should consider to temporarily forget the coldness, let loose and enjoy your stay.
1. Check the weather
Before leaving your home country, be sure to know what the weather will be like to have an idea of what set of clothes to pack for this trip. If you are travelling withing November to March, then it would be wise to bring winter clothes with you.
When in Japan, it is also wise to check the weather forecast before leaving your dorm, hostel, hotel, or wherever you are staying. You can do this by either asking around for a weather update or downloading a weather app in you smartphones.
This is quite important to make sure that you know what the weather will be like for the entire day. If it says that the temperature will drop in the afternoon, make sure you layer on those clothes. If it says it will rain, then bring an umbrella to avoid getting drenched.
Before we travelled to Japan, the weather forecast read 12 degrees. It was a good thing we prepared for this because at one point, the temperature dropped to 0 degrees.
2. Stay indoors
I can almost hear you scream that at the top of your lungs. You must think this advise is crazy, right? After all the planning to visit the country, you’d just be stuck indoors?
This one’s the most sensible thing to do if you really don’t want to feel numb and cold all day. Normally, hotels/hostels have indoor heating systems which will keep you warm during winter. So if you are out visiting some tourist destinations and you see a shop or establishment nearby, don’t hesitate to walk inside to defrost your bodies.
If you end up stuck in a blizzard or if the snow is too deep, you better postpone any outdoor explorations also as it might be too dangerous. Again, refer to Tip # 1. Last year, Japan got hit by one of the heaviest snowfall recorded in their history and it won’t be a great idea if you wander off at times like that.
When we visited Osaka Castle, we got so cold after eating ice cream that we decided to loiter inside a souvenir shop just to recover.
3. Look for heattech undergarments from Uniqlo
Uniqlo has developed a special kind of thin inner garment that can contain heat from your body and keep you warm. If you don’t want to look like a sumo wrestler after the numerous clothes you piled up to keep you warm, simply wearing this garment will do wonders to your body. You can layer up 2 of these on top of your clothes and you’ll be fine.
If Uniqlo happens to have a branch in your area, go ahead and get one. This item is sold seasonal though so make sure you get one before the winter season ends in your place.
GU also sells something similar so it’s worth checking out too.
4. Put on layers of clothing
This one’s definitely a must if you are not used to staying in a cold environment. Wearing a bubble jacket would help too.
5. Use gloves, ear muffs, scarves, hat and other accessories to keep you warm
When the cold season is about to end (February), stores tend to sell their winter apparels at knock-off prices. Would you believe that UGG look-a-like boots are priced as cheap as 500 yen? It’s durable too! When you have friends who lives there, it’s best to ask them to shop those discounted items for you. Otherwise, make sure you bring with you gloves, ear muffs, scarves, hats and all those stuff to keep you warm.
For those techie travellers, you can wear special gloves to use with your touch-screen gadgets. It’s really quite handy and can be bought at stores in Japan.
6. Lather on those intensive moisturizing lotions
You need to bring with you an intensive moisturizing lotion when you travel Japan during winter. This is a must especially to those with sensitive skin. Because of the drafty air, your skin will dry up fast. Once this happens, it will start to break and flake and sometimes will cause you to get itchy all over. You don’t want to be placed in this situation. Believe me. Using lotions will prevent your skin to break off. Apply it even on your hidden body parts too!
Surely you don’t want the cold weather to ruin your “beautiful” skin, do you?
On our third day in Japan, I started to feel my skin drying up, thus the need for me to lather on lotion all over my body and apply a moisturizing cream on my face.
7. Eat hot meals
Nothing beats the thought of slurping hot soup from any ramen store. Not only will this keep you warm but it will also replenish the lost energy from all the walks you’ll be doing while visiting each tourist destination listed on your itinerary.
Again. Bawal magkasakit. In other words, you can’t afford to get sick during these times so it is important that you stay healthy. One way to do this is to stuff up on food. Make sure you eat properly to stay strong and healthy.
8. Drink hot beverages
If there’s one guaranteed thing that will keep you warm, it’s also consuming hot drinks. This could be tea, coffee, or any hot drinks you could think of.
The mere act of holding something warm will be a great help in sending off warmth to your hands and the rest of your body. Drinking one will surely awaken your blood vessels.
Convenience stores and vending machines are spread-out all over the place. They normally sell a combination of hot and cold drinks. Just look carefully at the drawings or labels. Drinks stacked in red are hot drinks while those in blue ones are cold drinks.
Also take advantage of the unlimited hot tea served at each restaurant you dine. Those are also free.
9. Double your Vitamin C dosage
Take care of your health. With the layers of clothing you wear, there’s a huge probability that your body may be too warm inside without you realizing it.
Listen to your body. Avoid getting your sweat dry up on your back to avoid catching colds or pneumonia. The extra dose of Vitamin C will get you covered to boost your immune system.
Some of you may be against taking oral medicines. However, this should be one of those rare exceptions that you need to consider. Believe me when I say this – You don’t want get sick in Japan, unless of course you purchased travel insurance with you and you don’t mind staying inside your hotel or hospital for the entire duration of your short stay. Otherwise, whenever you feel that you are going to get sick, immediately drink the medicine necessary to stop it.
During our trip, I had to take 2 capsules of vitamin C each day. I also brought Paracetamol with me and Ibuprofen to prevent getting sick, which almost happened to me. ‘twas a good thing I paid attention to my body when I sensed that I was about to get sick.
10. Get near heaters to warm up
Not all buildings in Japan are season proof. Meaning, not all of them are equipped with heaters. Train stations are open areas. So quickly hop on inside the train to defrost. Other establishments also have huge heaters. You can look for one and get near them.
If you are staying at your friend’s house, there’s no guarantee that they’d have a 24/7 heater since most Japanese homes don’t usually have a central heating or cooling system. You’d be lucky if they have electric heaters, otherwise, you’d have to endure a seemingly endless cold night.
When we visited the Grinpa Resort in Susoni, a huge kerosene heater is placed near the store’s entrance. We gathered over it to get warm. At our friends’ house, we had to use this halogen heater to keep us warm as it was ridiculously cold at night.
11. Use Kairo
Kairo, not kaiju the godzilla-looking monster, ok? This nifty looking stuff could probably save you from the below freezing environment. This is Japan’s secret winter weapon to staying warm.
What are those exactly?
Kairo, which means fire inside the pocket, is a self-warming pad that you can attach to your clothing to keep you warm. You don’t have to worry because they won’t burn you alive. The heat from a kairo can last up to 20 hours. This is a great way to bring a portable heater with you.
These are sold all over the country, can be bought at convenience stores and costs less than 50 yen per pad. They come in different sizes too and you can buy the small ones and place them inside your pockets to easily grab them when your hands are too numb.
12. Visit an Onsen
Although you might be in for a shock when you pay these bathing houses a visit, onsens can actually help rejuvenate your body after being stirred and bruised by the freezing environment. For a more detailed recollection of what goes on inside an onsen house, check out this article by Ada – My First Onsen — From Culture Shock to Fantastic Experience. You can also see this detailed information about the do’s and don’ts when visiting one here.
13. Take the empty seat you see inside the trains
Don’t be too stubborn and choose to stand on long train rides. You need to sit down. Trains are equipped with heated seats. You’ll actually notice it when you look under the seats in front of you. You’d immediately feel the heat under sending warmth on your legs.
Stay away from the train doors too. When the doors open during station stops, you wouldn’t want to feel the chilly wind gushing through your entire face.
14. Use fleece blankets to keep you warm
You’ll become besties with fleece blankets, space blankets, electric blankets and futons. If possible, bring a lap blanket with you if you really can’t stand the frosty temperature. Otherwise, hug them tight with all your might when you get back in your hotel. This is one of the effective ways to stay warm during winter.
15. Sit on toilets
As weird as it sounds, the famous bidet toilets allow comfort when you are too cold because their seats are heated too. Just approach your friendly hostel or hotel staff on how to operate one if you find that those toilet seats are as cold as ice.
I especially remember when I had to pee early morning. As I stepped out of our warm dorm room in Kyoto, I immediately shivered because of the change of temperature in the hallway. It was a good thing that the toilet was warm when I went inside, offering that temporary comfort.
16. Apply sunblock
Don’t be fooled by the cold weather. Although you may be freezing to death on a sunny winter day, your face could end up looking like roasted tomato if you don’t wear sunscreen. Always protect your skin.
17. Bring umbrellas
When you see that it is raining or snowing before you leave your place, be sure to bring an umbrella with you. Unless you have a waterproof jacket and a waterproof hat or hood, then you are totally fine. Otherwise, you have to bring one with you at all costs. The last thing you need is to turn into a walking ice while your body gets drenched. You don’t want to catch colds, upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) or worse, pneumonia.
18. Apply lip balm and reapply as much as possible
Wearing lip balm is a must. This applies to both men and women. Your lips are one of the first parts of your face that get exposed to the dry and icy temperature, thus, the first to show signs of how harsh the weather can be to your skin. You’ll start getting chapped lips if you don’t apply lip balm so be sure to have this handy item with you all the time.
There you have it. Those 18 tips on how to stay warm in Japan during winter are just some of the things you need to know when you visit the country from November to March. The most important thing is that you should take care of your health to fully enjoy your trip in this amazing country. Have fun guys! And remember…
…Winter is coming
P.S. If there are other things I missed on this list or if you have other ideas on how to stay warm in during the winter season in Japan, would love to hear your thoughts. 🙂