Dec 11, 2012

Surviving winter in Japan

As you may know, I come from Canada, which is world known for being the large snow covered cold Iceland north of the United states.

You would assume, A Canadian coming from such a cold place would have nothing to do but complain about the hot weather in Japan (which every other gaijin complains about) and then you would assume that being Canadian, winter is not so bad, right?


I have lived and been all over the place between Sault ste Marie, Ontario all the way down to Toronto and I can say, Toronto is way colder.

Even though the actual temperatures in Ontario, reach much lower numbers than in Tokyo, It still feels colder in Tokyo.

It was only 11C outside yesterday and I felt like my hands were going to fall off.  This is the kind of weather that in Ontario, people only wear a sweater or a light jacket out.  I believe the reason why it appears colder in Tokyo is; it is so dry.

The wind is so cold, the air is so dry so it feels painful on your skin when you go outside.

If you are coming to live in Japan there are some things you need to know about winter. The weather varies from north to south (duh). Hokkaido gets lots of snow. Okinawa gets no snow and is always hot.  Other regions of Japan from Tokyo and south may never get snow, or only get snow once or twice in the winter.

Another thing that I found interesting that happens in the winter time in Tokyo, it doesn't even rain. It is sunny every single day. Last year it was 32 days with no rain or snow, then it finally snowed.  This is why it is so dry.

Houses in Japan do not have a central heating system (except for northern areas)

So that means fellow Tokyo-jins will be relying on your best friend all winter, the heater. In Japan, air conditioners are also built with a heating function.

If you are lucky you have one of these already installed and you wont have to pay thousands of dollars to buy one.

Even more lucky is if you have a timer set on it (this way you can turn it on and off without having to actually be around it)

In Japan, another popular type of heater is the kerosene/gas or oil heaters. These will probably be the most scary as they could explode and they give off a strange smell. They are however still used (often by older people).

Then there is the Electric heater, which is just as dangerous and visually scary. If you have never seen one, it is basically like a stove element glowing hot red magma colour.

If you have any heater in Japan that doesn't have a turn off timer you MUST TURN IT OFF BEFORE BED!

The number one cause of fires in Japan is due to forgetting to turn off a heater, or leaving the heater on at night time while you are sleeping. It is so dry in the winter that if a house catches fire it can easily burn.

So what you do before bed, is you turn off your heater and freeze till morning. Then you can turn it back on again. Its important to sleep with a lot of layers of clothing and blankets to make sure you don't die get too cold.

Another thing that is very common and useful in the winter are カイロ KAIRO  which are hand warmers.  A popular brand is ホカロン HOKARON.
These hot pads work wonders at night. What Japanese people usually do is stick one of them on their belly to keep it warm at night. You must stick it on your clothing because it is too hot to stick directly on your body.

((RANDOM JAPANESE MYTH - Many Japanese people believe that if you don't keep your stomach warm while you sleep, you will get diarrhea. For this reason you may notice many Japanese people sleep with a hot pad or a blanket covering their belly (even in the summer time).))

Last thing I am going to talk about is the 炬燵 kotatsu. You might have heard of it, it is the table with a blanket that hangs over it that has a heater under it to keep you your legs warm.

Similar to the fire ball of death electric heater, the underside of most models appears like this. A lot of gaijin seem to enjoy this invention and praise it. I however don't see the meaning of it.

It only warms your legs (so what about the rest of your body).  Spending all that electricity just to warm half your body doesn't seem very logical.

People should realise that if you put your legs under a blanket that your body heat will get trapped under there anyways and keep them warm (without the need of any heat source).  Aside from that, it seems extremely dangerous that at any given time, you could accidentally move your leg the wrong way (especially if you are a fidgety person like I) and burn your self.

Well guys, what do you think?


  1. Love your blogs and YouTube videos ^_^.

  2. Many kotatsus have a protector around the heater so you don't accidentally burn yourself.
    I've also heard of people using a hot air fan to keep the room warm.
    I personally don't mind the cold, you just have to layer up the clothes and toughen yourself up n_n

  3. I would think maybe the winters in Toyko would be about the same humidity as southern Ontario because their close to water. You want dry winters come to Alberta. So dry, that nose bleeds are fairly common here because of it.

    1. It has nothing to do with the water. But yeah, Toronto's winter humidy is always above 50%. Just checking right now the humidex is 71%. Checking Tokyos now it is 28%. Huge diference. Checking edmonton now, it is 88%.

    2. Wow, I checked the humidex for the place I live in France and it's almost 90% O_o I can't imagine how dry it must be in Japan >.<

  4. Wow that was really helpful. I'll try to remember these tips when I go Japan.

  5. I hate the winter in Japan! Oh well, I hate the winter in Italy too XD I also think that skyscrapers protect Tokyo from that super cold wind pulls out of town, otherwise it would be even colder!
    Kairo are the best especially for their price, in my country they are really expensive and is not so easy to find =O=

  6. I live in Canada in Ontario :O

  7. I love winter in Japan, but then I live in a passive solar house, insulated with Australian wool insulation, that I designed myself, so in winter it is flooded with sunlight and can actually get quite hot. In addition, I have a wood-fired stove (also imported from Australia) to keep the place warm and toasty at night or on cloudy days.
    Nothing like curling up in front of the fire at night with a glass of red!

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  9. This is perfect...i am going next week to Tokorozawa and my friend is complaining of dying in the cold. I was there this February and the house we lived in is so cold because of that teeny heater. Now i know why i was freezing to death as well...and i live here in Toronto. Today was 11degrees and many are in light jacket and or cardigans with scarves...really! I have to look for this info as i don't really wanna carry/bring heavy down jacket and my hush Puppies lined tall boots. I want to take it off from my luggage but now having read this, I shall bring more socks and scarves, too. Thanks :)