Winter in Japan has the potential to bite. Not only do we get attacked by the extreme cold air from across the ocean (which somehow arrives as dry as the desert), but houses and apartments in Japan still have plenty to learn about insulation. This, and a lack of central heating systems over here mean we may have to call upon a little more innovation to keep warm than we might back home. Keeping warm during winter in Japan also has the potential for considerable expense. In fact, this is oft the topic of grown-up get togethers during which monthly utilities are feverishly compared. Then there's the kit; electric heaters, warm air conditioning, hot packs, heated blankets and carpets, and high-performance warm clothing for every part of the body. It's easy to drop a lot of money at this time, making winter in Japan is a retailer's dream, with plenty of floor space devoted to these keep-warm products.
We're all about the cost of living in Japan here at City-Cost (and ways to keep that down). Hardened by plenty of winters 'in country', we've gotten savvy with a few easy ways to keep warm, that not only help you save money, but also come with a few other perks. Winning!
We're following here, the principle of keeping the warm in and the cold out. So here are some tips on how to keep warm during winter in Japan.
The easiest way to add a bit of 'fire' (figuratively speaking, unless you have a fireplace) to your home is to cook! It's not everyone's cup of tea in a country that has so many cheap eat-out options, but it works and you're killing too birds with one stone; heating and eating.
Take out that folder of recipes you said you would try one day, make soups, stews, cakes, muffins, baked pasta ... anything will do. This expat recently moved into a bigger place but still maintains the Lilliputian heater from the old place. It barely touches the sides, so to speak. Fire up the rice cooker though (primarily for the purposes of cooking rice, of course) and things get distinctly more cosy. I've never been so keen to start cooking.
Bonus: Your family/friends/guests may be delighted by all the food, and hopefully the home will be smelling, well, more homely!
Light the candles
So other than cooking, candles are the next best way to add more heat to your home! Every tea candle generates 77 watts of heat. Hence, by placing candles around your home you are generating more much needed heat to stave of the chill! At the cheapest end of the spectrum, you can pick up bags of plain (and petite) candles from 100 yen stores. Next up would be DIY places like D2 and Cainz, moving on to furniture giants, Nitori, and Ikea. The fancier wax starts at zakka stores like Passport, Loft, and Francfranc.
Bonus: Nice smelling home with a romantic flair.
Instead of buying a gas or electric heater, or indeed as a supplement to those, you can make one using just clay flower pots, tea candles, and a baking tray. 'natural LIVING IDEAS' have an instructional piece about how to do this, that's easy to follow. As they themselves say though, don't leave these things unattended. For your flower pots, the aforementioned D2, Cainz et al are a reliable resource.
Bonus: A new display piece for your home (you can also make it look like a small fireplace).
Rearrange your furniture
The simple principle here is to move away from the cold and allow heat to efficiently spread throughout your room. Hence, move your sofas, dining tables, kotatsu, desks and chairs away from windows towards the middle of the room. Of course, plenty of us expats in Japan are living in tight spaces (a good thing in winter). With this in mind it pays to be sure to move clutter that could potentially be blocking the warm draft from the AC or the heat from your heaters.
Bonus: Cause to rearrange your home/apartment for the upcoming Christmas and New Year's parties! Or just tidy up a bit.
Block the drafts
We go back to our point about the insulation of your average abode in Japan. No matter how warm you make your room, all efforts will be compromised if you have cold air seeping through the cracks of your windows or underneath the doors. You'll likely find a lot of cold drafts in Japan.
Make that small effort to add a strip of foam to the edges of your windows to halt that cold air. As for the draft coming from under your door, say 'Hi!' to the draft blockers. You can purchase basic draft blockers from 100 yen stores or, if you want to pay more, pretty fancy ones can be found in stores such as Francfranc.
If you are the handy kind, into crafts and sewing, you can design and make your own. An example can be found on DIY/creation site 'instructables', requiring only an old blanket, scissors, and some string.
Bonus: Depending on your adeptness at such things, this could add even more colour and style to your place!
Dress your windows accordingly
You change your clothes according to the sun and the moon, maybe your windows deserve the same attention! So, open up your curtains during the day to let the sun in (and thus the heat) and close them up at night to keep the chill out (and that daytime heat in). That said, you'd be bucking a bit of trend here in Japan, where windows (of houses in particular) tend to be shuttered up and curtained up to the point where it would raise suspicion amongst the neighbours back home. Maybe it works the other way round in Japan. Still, at least you'll be warmer.
Bonus: Having sunlight in the house helps kill household mould.
Hide your head and shoulders, knees and toes
The old wives tales is that most of the body heat escapes through your head. So to 'them', putting on a hat is to cap the exit of heat. Let us qualify that notion a little. Heat escapes through any exposed surface of your body. Since the head tends to be the largest of our exposed surfaces, leaving it cold will be the greatest cause of a drop in core body temperature.
Start wearing that hat, scarf, the gloves and socks, at all times to keep your body heat in. A good bet for finding these things on the cheap in Japan is in 'bargain bins' of fast fashion retailers like H&M, or in the accessory sections of department stores like OIOI (Marui), which usually have plenty of stock at this time of year.
Bonus: Have fun with hats and socks. After all, this is the season when anyone can get away with sporting a zany looking accessory.
Got a lot of clothes lying around? Instead of running out to buy that cashmere sweater, all you need to do is spend a little bit of time reorganising your existing clothes into combinations that you can start wearing together. On top of this, in urban Japan in particular, you'll likely be spending your days jumping between air conditioned buildings, the frigid outdoors, and trains that all too often can't seem to get the thermostat right. Behaviour like this simply isn't that healthy. Being able to shed/add some layers then, is nothing but a good thing.
For ladies, fashion site 'WHO WHAT WEAR' has an interesting piece on 'the 2016 way to layer your clothes'.
Bonus: Make a new fashion statement and show off your personality
Have we given you some new ideas for how to keep warm during winter in Japan? Any ideas to add to the list? Leave your comments below!
See us on:
Top: Wiennat Mongkulmann
Candles: Laura Bittner
Fireplace: Dominic Hargreaves
Toesocks: Alex Holzknecht
Rights: Flickr license