One of the biggest shocks to my system when I first moved to Japan as just how cold the winters here can be. Now those of you who come from the US or Canada will be laughing at me and telling me that your winters get just as cold if not more so, but what you’ve got to realize is that South Africa has particularly mild winters paired with hot, dry summers.
On top of that most housing in Japan isn’t insulated so when it gets hot it gets hot and when it gets cold it gets cold.
Luckily though for me my part of Japan down in Kyushu doesn’t get as much snow as the rest of Japan, so I managed to avoid the record snowfalls that hit most of eastern Japan during January and February.
Of course after living in Japan for a few years you do start to learn the best ways to cope with the cold:
- Your best and closest friend in winter will usually be a kotatsu which is a small table with a heater and fan strapped underneath it that is covered by a blanket and quilt. For me most of my winter is spent sitting with at my kotatsu hoping that I never have to leave from it.
- If you work in an office or school the first place you’ll run to when you get in to work will be the kerosene heater (sometimes also called a stove in Japan). I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to warm my hands over the heater before I can actually use them to hold a pen or type at my laptop.
- Electric blankets will be your saviour at night when you need to get in a good few hours of sleep without waking up frozen solid. The only downside here of course is that you’ll never want to leave your bed when you wake up.
- For those times when you absolutely have to leave the comfy confines of your house or apartment you’ll come to praise the heavens for bestowing the world with Heattech and the multitude of other heat retention underclothing that’s available. Before I arrived in Japan I would have balked at the mere thought of wearing tights no matter what the reason but a pair of Heattech tights and a Heattech vest are the best invention since sliced bread and help you to survive the freezing winds and snows that make Japanese winters so cold.
- Showing off Japanese ingenuity at its best is the fact that you can buy hot drinks from vending machines and seeing that Japan has an average of a vending machine for every 23 citizens (per the Japan Vending Machine Manufacturers Association) it’s pretty hard not to find a hot drink on any street corner. Japanese scientists also recently invented the world’s first hot canned carbonated drink, a ginger ale that I fell in love with the first time I tasted it.
Even though I do all the above religiously each year I still curse the weather gods under my breath every year as the cold of winter rolls in.
What made it worse this year was that I went back home to South Africa where the temperature was a wonder 30 - 32 Celsius every day. I could nearly have died from happiness not having to deal with the freezing temperatures of winter!