Sunday, January 8, 2012

Winter in Japan: A Survival Guide, Part 2

Kyoto, Japan

Japanese winter is very mild compared to home- my Japanese friends laugh when I tell them January here feels like a spring day in Canada. Yet, the temperatures in Japan do drop low, and it's nearly impossible to completely escape the cold. A lack of proper insulation and central heating is the main issue, and even though most apartments are equipped with an air conditioning unit, you have to be standing right under it in order to immediately benefit from the warmth.

As a Canadian and after three winters in Japan, I consider myself a near expert. It's possible to spend a toasty winter in my favourite season, and here is how:

When I was a little girl and spending hours on the ski slopes, my mom would make me wear several layers of socks and clothing- every Canadian knows that layering is the key! Long underwear (for boys) and tights (for girls) under your jeans, as well as layers of thermal undershirts will make a difference: Japanese chain Uniqlo has a great line of Heat Tech clothing, specially designed to keep warmth.

Cover up
The body loses heat from extremities, so it's important to cover your hands, head, and toes. A stylish winter hat (or tuque, as we call it in Canada), mittens (I love the kind with the cord that keeps them together, as I tend to lose them), gloves (lined for boys or more elegant leather ones for girls), chunky scarves and adequate footwear are essential.

Drink up
I stay warm by sipping tea throughout the day, which I keep in an insulated bottle. You can also easily purchase a selection of hot beverages from vending machines and convenience stores, which abound in Japan. At the evening, I love sharing mulled wine with friends, and here is an easy recipe: pour a bottle of red wine in a saucepan, add an orange and a lemon (peeled but full), and spice with cinnamon sticks, cloves, nutmeg. Let simmer for several minutes before serving. In Japan, we also regularly drink hot sake or shochu, the local liquors. Delectable, and fun.

Eat warm foods
In Japan, foods tend to be very seasonal, and luckily winter has its own delicious variety. Nabe is probably my favourite: it's a hot pot, in which you can throw anything ranging from chicken to shrimp to kimchi, and seasoned with different broths, such as miso or soy. The best part is to share it with friends and slowly enjoy this meal. Another popular winter fare is oden, a dish consisting of several ingredients such as boiled eggs, daikon radish, tofu and fish cakes stewed in a soy broth. Oden is readily available at most convenience stores, and you can pick several items from a simmering pot.

Take a bath, Japanese style: shower and rinse throughly before entering the bath, in which you soak (and NOT wash, unlike in my home culture). Japan boasts with sento (communal bath house) and onsens (natural hot springs in which you can bathe and relax). I highly recommend getting over your fear of public nudity and trying them, as they are the outmost relaxing and soothing experience (minus the first visit, perhaps!)

In Osaka, I luckily owned a kotatsu table: a low, wooden table covered with a futon or blanket, with a heat source generating from the table itself. Traditionally, most Japanese families kept warm around the kotatsu, but their popularity has decreased nowadays. I miss my kotatsu table, but I'm also relieved to not have it, as my whole social life revolved around my desire to never get away from the table.

Lastly, don't forget to insulate your windows and door frames by simply taping around the edges or putting plastic sheets over it, like we do in Canada: saves lots of energy and money as well. Hot water bottles from MUJI can be placed in your futon to keep your feet warm. Having guests in your futon is another way to cope with winter, and you can blame the idea on me.

Stay warm! 

{Read my Winter in Japan: A Survival Guide, Part 1}


Doi Domasian said...

Thanks for sharing these wonderful tips on how to survive winter in Japan. I'm going there this March and needs all the tips I could get to keep me warm. I'll definitely consider getting a flask for the hot tea to keep me warm as I tour the tourist spots in the country. :)

Vivian said...

Doi: Yes, a flask for hot tea is an excellent idea! However, March is kind of nice in Japan, so you might avoid the winter cold :)