The weather can be quite extreme in Japan. Whereas there are sweltering-hot days in the summer, the winter can bring freezing temperatures and even snow, particularly in the north of the country. If you’re unused to cold weather — or just low temperatures in poorly insulated buildings — you may find Japanese winters uncomfortable.
The good news is the Japanese have many ways to keep warm during the winter, all of which you can try for yourself.
Whenever you want to head out in the evening, pocket warmers called kairo are a must. For sale in practically every convenience store and pharmacy, kairo are made from a gel that starts heating up as soon as it’s activated with a snap. You can place kairo in your pockets with your hands or in your shoes for your feet.
There are multiple different types of kairo — they last for different amounts of time (some stay warm for hours), and there are even some that have a sticky backing to attach to the underside of your clothing. As well as single-use kairo, there are also reusable types, which reactivate when placed in boiling water.
Taking a trip to an onsen (natural hot springs) should be on the to-do list of any trip to Japan, but it’s an especially enjoyable activity in the winter. There are onsen all across the country, both public onsen where you can spend a few hours, and private ones with hotel rooms to stay overnight. Whatever you choose, you’ll feel warm up to several hours after you get out of the hot water.
Instead of just piling blankets on your bed, snuggle up with a yutanpo. These are hot water bottles, most often in the form of a hard, round case made of aluminum or plastic.
In Japan, there’s a genius invention for keeping warm while you relax at home. Called a kotatsu, it’s a low table with a heater inside. You cover the table with a blanket and then stick your legs underneath the blanket to keep warm. A kotatsu is ideal for small gatherings, or on your own while you read a book or work on your laptop. You’ll find kotatsu in many homes and ryokans.
If you are spending any time in drafty buildings (such as for work, school, or Japanese classes), you’ll need hizakake. These small blankets are designed to be carried around. Have one ready to place one on your lap whenever you find yourself sitting somewhere cold.
No matter where you are in any city, there’s sure to be a vending machine nearby. Find one selling drinks and purchase anything marked with red — this means hot, whereas blue means cold.
With just a little preparation, you can avoid being uncomfortable during the Japanese winter. And if you’re the kind of person who hates the cold, just remember that spring is right around the corner!