How to survive winter, Japanese style

Compared to many parts of the world, us Californians (especially those closer to the coast) experience 60°F "winters" aka picnic weather compared to a lot of places, so winter items are not a necessity, but a "nice-to-have." Having spent some time in Japan during the winter, I've learned along the way not only the best way to stay warm, but some cozy tips too. While Japan is cold, many of the houses are older with less insulation and central HVAC is not really common (I've woken up to my face freezing cold many times in the winter), so Japanese people have come up with some clever ways to keep warm. While car seat warmers and hot apple cider may be the way in the states, try out these Japanese ways to stay warm and get through winter! 


Aside from the obvious winter clothes, like coats and gloves, a great item to wear are HeatTech items from Uniqlo. You've probably heard of the term base layer, especially if you do outdoor activities. It's basically the same thing, but with different materials. I'm not going to go into the science details, but compared to most base layers, HeatTech is thinner and a bit more easy to layer than other base layers that are made of materials such as wool. They have different warmth levels, and you can change it up based on where you're going or what you're doing. Does it work? A good example is that on my wedding day, it was a pretty cold 46°F rainy day. I was wearing a backless dress but I wore HeatTech leggings underneath and I didn't feel cold! So yes, I'd say it worked.


Hanten (袢纏)

Not too commonly worn anymore, but a hanten is a great loungewear to wear in a Japanese home. Similar in shape to a happi that you would see at an obon or matsuri, what makes it warm is it's stuffed with cotton, making it fluffy and warm. Think of it as a wearable blanket. 

贈り物にも自分用にも! モードな‟はんてん”は、手放せなくなる暖かさ | 暮らしとおしゃれの編集室

Kairo (カイロ)

Another great thing to have on hand is a kairo. You probably know of it as hand warmers. The ones that come in little bags that you can shake to activate. Did you know that the modern technology that's used today in these was invented in Japan? Nowadays, there are reusable/rechargeable ones, but buy a pack of kairo at the drug store in the winter and you're set. There are pocket size ones but there are also sticky versions that you can stick to the inside of your clothes or in your shoes for extra toasty feet. 

寒い冬に必須のカイロを貼るのに効果的な場所を詳しく解説(季節・暮らしの話題 2021年01月04日) - 日本気象協会

MegRhythm Eye Masks

Speaking of warm things, these MegRhythm eye masks have been a hot (pun not intended) item in Japan for the past couple years. You can easily grab some at the Japanese supermarkets in the states too. They're similar in mechanism to the kairo; once they come out of the package and are exposed to air, they start heating up. They work like a sleep mask. You loop them on your ears and put them over your eyes. It comes in a variety of scents (and unscented) and the heat lasts for about 15 to 20 minutes. Perfect to use for a short nap or until you fall asleep. I like to use them when I feel like my eyes are tired or I just need a refresher. I always make sure to keep a box on hand.

P.S. They make great little gifts! 

Amazon | めぐりズム蒸気でホットアイマスク 無香料 12枚入 | めぐりズム | アイピロー・アイマスク

Kotatsu (炬燵)

If you've ever watched a Japanese show or anime set during winter, you may have seen a table with a blanket draped underneath. That's a kotatsu and it's amazing. The biggest con is that you never want to come out once you go in. It's a table with a heater underneath and the blanket keeps the heat in. You stick your feet in and it's a staple item for many Japanese households. Also makes for a great clothes warmer 😉 Not an easy thing to get outside of Japan, but I've seen online shops and even the supermarkets sell them here.

Yutanpo (湯たんぽ)

Okay, but you can't stay in the kotatsu forever. You may be asking, can't I just sleep in the kotatsu? I guess, yeah. But think of the electricity bill! Not to mention your back when you wake up on the floor. Ow. Don't worry, I got you. A yutanpo is a nifty thing to have. It's essentially a hot water bottle. You pour hot water in, cover it up in a little bag, and pop it in by your feet to warm up your bed (it's not recommended you sleep with it though, just in case). It's economical and you can really use it anywhere with hot water (so great for camping!). 


Amazake (甘酒)

If clothes and items aren't enough, warm up your body from the inside. Amazake is a great way to keep yourself toasty from the core. Literally meaning sweet sake, amazake is a fermented rice drink. Wait, don't freak out yet. Often sold on the streets in Japan, amazake is a favorite among everyone. Everyone? But I thought it had alcohol...? While it can be made with alcohol, and does have that distinct sake smell to it, most amazake sold is low to no alcohol. Learn how to make it yourself here!

Amazake: All You Need to Know About This Japanese Fermented Rice Drink

Oden (おでん)

While hot pot is now a common winter food staple even here in the states, something I haven't seen too commonly here is oden. If you like hot pot, you'll probably like oden. Oden has specific ingredients that you stew in a broth for long periods of time. Boiled eggs, konnyaku, chikuwa, and daikon are some of the many types that you can choose from. You can easily buy pre-made packs at local Japanese supermarkets or you can buy them separately. Oden is a common winter dish in Japan. Carts sell them on the streets but all the konbini sell them as well; that's how common oden is ingrained into Japanese culture.

Oden (Japanese Fish Cake Stew) おでん • Just One Cookbook

How will you get through winter this season? Did you find something new to try out to keep warm? 😊

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