How to Beat the Winter Blues in Japan
Japan has a very humid summer; the temperature and humidity gap between the summer and winter season is something not to be underestimated. Moreover, since most houses in Japan were built without a central heating system, winter blues can haunt anyone who does not get well-prepared in advance. But, don’t worry; humans are the most adaptable creatures in the world. Winter is beautiful and to enjoy it you need to beat the winter blues!
Wearing warm clothes is a must. To get warm, you may be inclined to use thick apparel that warms you up. But heavy clothing will tire you out. What you need is a pair of warmers that will keep you comfortably warm yet feels light and fluffy. Brands such as Uniqlo, G.U. and Muji offer light winter jackets and other clothing to answer consumers’ needs for light yet warm clothing in winter.
Kairo (hand warmers)
You can get kairo (懐炉) in almost any drug store in Japan. Kairo is a hero when you get cold outside since it is tiny in size yet turns warm to hot as you rub it with your hands.
Even though its kanji literally means "pocket heater" (懐 = pocket, 炉 = heater), some kairo also can be used as foot-warmers when pasted on your insole. An amazing way to keep your toes warm while it is snowing outside!
It looks like an ordinary table, but it is so much more! Yes, it is a small table that will warm you up as it has a heater underneath. Classic kotatsus used charcoal for warmth but nowadays there are electric kotatsus that can be easily purchased at any electronics store.
Sleeping with the heater mode of an air conditioner switched on throughout the night might be uncomfortable for some people. Yet a blanket might not be enough to fight the freezing temperature. My personal recommendation is using an electric blanket or denki mofu (電気毛布). It can usually keep you warm enough at night and has lower electric power consumption than an air conditioner or an electric heater.
Nabe (Japanese hot pot)
A party in winter would be incomplete without nabe. Literally, a nabe (鍋) is a hot pot that is used to cook stew or anything with a soup. But in winter, nabe is similar to hot pot party with family or colleagues.
As nabemono (鍋物), or the food cooked with a nabe, can warm your body and keep the winter blues away, recently hitori-nabe (一人鍋), or having nabe by one’s self, is quite popular among young people.
If summer is usually associated with hanabi (fireworks), spring with hanami (flower viewing), and autumn with momijigari (viewing autumn leaves), winter is a time for enjoying special light displays, or illuminations, in Japan. You might feel like staying at home all the time due to the low temperatures outside, but I bet you will have regrets if you miss these outdoor events. There are innumerable illumination events in all popular destinations all over Japan.
From simple light displays to outstanding ones, from the east to the west, you can hardly get bored. Events range from the Saga Light Fantasy, Huis Ten Bosch’s Kingdom of Light, and Momochi Blue Light Illumination in Kyushu, to the Snow Festival with illumination in Hokkaido. Not to mention illumination events around major stations and shopping malls in the big cities. Each display is unique and goes a long way to warding off the winter blues.
You have to get your body moving to beat the cold. After I arrived in Japan, I was impressed to witness many people spending their spare time jogging after work, even during the chilly winter season.
If you are adventurous and fun-loving, spend 1-2 days at a ski resort to experience a winter sport like skiing or snowboarding. Such activities are very popular in winter, not only for local Japanese people but also for tourists from across the globe. Be sure to make prior reservations for accommodations and transportation like buses.
Most accommodations around ski resorts have their own onsen, or hot springs. Hotels and ryokan (Japanese inns) not fortunate enough to have access to natural hot springs will at least offer excellent bathing facilities. Soaking your body after having fun in the snow will help you relax and be ready to fight the cold.
Last but not least, you've got to stay positive. Winter and its freezing temperature maybe harsh, but keeping a positive mind brings power to overcome the winter blues. Go, go, go, fight the winter blues!!