I would apologise for not posting in 6 months or whatever it has been but there is a very good reason why I have not; I couldn’t be bothered. And to be honest, I was suffering from extreme culture shock/home sickness. You wouldn’t even believe it. I started to loathe Japan. I wanted to go home. I drafted a letter of resignation and everything. But then I had a turn around moment and I started to make friends and go out and enjoy myself (hmmm… I feel a blog post about this coming on…) so long story short, I’m back. I am going to try harder to reboot this blog. Its not like this blog has an audience or anything anyway, so we are all back on speaking terms.
Anyway, I want to share my top tips for surviving the winter in Japan. As an Australian whose experience of winter has never dipped below 15 degrees centigrade, coming to the dry sub-temperatures of Shizuoka was a bit shocking way back in March 2011. Japanese people walk around and get on with it without complaint as thought this is somehow normal. Well it’s not. It’s strange and unusual. Why do people choose to live in parts of the world where the weather does this? The other day I saw my Canadian neighbour running around town in shorts and a t-shirt. It was about 14 degrees centigrade out. Its unnatural. So for all you normal people who, oh I don’t know, enjoy being warm, this post is for you…
Take care of your skin
Don’t let the excessive precipitation deceive you; winters can be very dry in Japan. I remember the first time I came to Japan for a holiday 5 years ago during the Japanese winter and the weather dried out my forehead where I already had a dry skin problem. The skin would flake off in handfuls. I’m sorry about the visual but that’s not the last of it; dry hands, dry face, dry everything! Your epidermis is very important. It is the first thing people see when they look at you (most of the time) and it also keeps all of your organs in, or something. Invest in some deep moisturizing cream like Nivea or anything with lanolin in it. Look for “しっとり” on the label. Avoiding dry skin is a preventative measure; I can’t help you if you already have the aforementioned flaking problem. Use an exfoliating facial scrub at least once every three days and if your skin looks a little dryer than usual, try a facial mask. These you can buy from your supermarket or drug story: you heat them up in the bath water then apply to your face. There is something in the mask that seems to generally solve all your facial problems and leave you glowing!
These are rare in Australia but much more widely available in Japan and slightly expensive but worth it. And they really work! They really keep the heat in your tea/coffee all day long as though you had just poured it. Sometimes you just need a hit of something hot to warm you up. I am currently loving the thermoses sold at franc franc.
Guard against the chill at work too
Get yourself a lap blanket and don’t feel silly; everyone else is doing it too. Take your thermos full of hot tea or coffee to work with you. Buy a few pocket warmers and stuff them in your pockets or under your shirt. It’s a good idea to keep a few of these because after you use them once they become hard and you need to take them home a boil them in water for five minutes to ‘reset’ them. Always have a few on hand in your desk draw and you will never be caught short. You can buy some really cute animal shaped ones from Loft for around 500yen.
This is so obvious it doesn’t need mentioning but there are just a few notes I’d like to make. The thermal wear I purchased in Australia works just fine but is very stiff, uncomfortable and expensive. I have since found it is easy enough to buy comfortable, stretchy scoop neck thermal tops from Uni Qlo (great for hiding under your regular clothes and work attire) for around ) 900yen. Bargain! Heck, for that price, chuck two of them on when you are getting dressed in the morning. Uni Qlo also makes great thermal tights and leggings. The great news is they actually work and better than the stuff I bought in Australia. Just remember that the material is designed to wick away moisture so they can and will soak up all your sweat and start to smell after 1 or 2 wears. Look for the “Heat Tech” logo when purchasing.
Heat proof the apartment
We all know Japanese apartments are poorly insulated, drafty and have no “central heating” (if anyone knows what this is, please leave a comment). While many Americans may balk at this, I completely understand why because Australian houses are built exactly the same way. The idea behind the design is to not allow heat to get trapped inside buildings. This helps us survive the terrible summers. One of my friends back home once told me he had never felt so cold since immigrating to Australia due to the building designs and he was from the UK.
Heat proofing the apartment can be as simple as taping bubble-wrap to the windows for quick and easy insulation; investing in heavier winter curtains or the aluminum sort that prevent drafts (available from Espot as far as I know); or just cracking out the kotatsu. Please use heaters and kotatsu responsibly. We all need to work to save energy and ease pressure on the Fukushima nuclear plant.
There is a great post about winterizing your apartment on Surviving in Japan so please check it out.
|Image source: http://www.instructables.com/id/Heat-blocking-curtains/|
Consider changing the time you shower
This is something I am currently experimenting with and really depends on your personal preferences. I used to get up and jog in the morning, get really sweaty, come home and have a cold shower (this was during the peak of summer). Now, I have started jogging in the afternoon when it is warmer outside, coming home and having a scorching shower to stay warm. This is a great way to make your body impervious to the cold (for a few hours). This option saves me from undressing in the icy cold of a winter morning, waiting for the shower to heat up before getting in there.
On the other hand, some people enjoy the thought of a hot shower awaiting them when they wake up. They use the shower as motivation to drag themselves out of beg in the icy dawn and start the day nice an warm.
Just something to think about…
Great way to warm up and stay healthy. Something triggers in the brain during the winter months, urging the body to consume more calories which means there is more energy to burn which means your body stays warm. Not to mention various festivities like “Thanks Giving” (if anyone knows what this is, please leave a comment) and Christmas which don’t tend to help in the calorie consumption department. Exercising will keep you on top of this.
Onsens are pretty much the one redeeming feature of winters. After work, get yourself to an onsen. Try to avoid ones near your place of work because generally your co-workers and students have had the same thought about going to an onsen after school and seeing your teacher/students naked can be awkward for all parties. Go for one a little further away or off the beaten track.
If all else fails, get yourself back to Australia. Did you know that December through February are the hottest months of the year in the southern hemisphere? How very convenient for us! Just think; you could be lying on a beach in 30 plus degree weather on Christmas day, or you could be alone in Japan, shivering in your freezing apartment. I have opted to do this and will be joining my family for Christmas. Admittedly, it is one of the more expensive options I have suggested today. Tickets can run as high as AUD$2,000 return.
Many people have made fun of me for being Australian and having summer during Christmas time (I’m sorry, I will try harder next time guys) but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Enjoy your cold-arse Christmas.
Hope these tips have been helpful! Follow me on twitter and Merry Christmas!