Like it or not, winter is upon us, and living in Gunma inevitably means chilly mornings in your uninsulated house, long treks to school through heavy snow, up hill both ways, on a bike, and acquiring a fondness for the smell of kerosene.
Japanese homes are not built for the cold winter months, and for those of us who from warmer climates or who are used to the luxury of central heating, adapting to the frigid temperatures inside can be quite the adjustment.Luckily the Japanese have invented endless devices and methods to make the next few months a little bit more bearable.
So without further ado, your Gunma Winter Survival Guide:
Layering in the winter is key. Always start your day with a thin base layer of Uniqlo’s Heattech or a similar thermal. Add layer upon layer until your arms stick out from your body and you waddle like a sumo wrestler.Layers are perfect for a busy day at work, when you start the day in the warm cozy comforts of the kerosene-heated staffroom and suddenly rush off to the icy cold hallways and classrooms filled with shivering blue-faced children.
If you do not already have a kotatsu, nor know what one is, you have clearly missed out on the single most essential Japanese winter invention. This heated table, while bulky and quite obtrusive in your living room, will be your safe-haven for the next four to five months. Cook, eat, facebook, read, study, iron, and knit all from the comfort and warmth of your table.
However, under no circumstances should you ever sleep under your kotatsu. Red legs, cold arms, and a terrible headache are all that can come from catching a few zzz’s under the heated table, so it is certainly best to avoid dozing off, despite the kotatsu’s powerful sleep-inducing properties.
Sold at every grocery or home store, these inexpensive and convenient chemical heat-packs are perfect for slipping in your shoes or pocket for those long and chilly walks through the school hallways. Hokkairos come in all shapes and sizes, and stay warm for several hours. Simply open a pack, give it a shake, and stick it on your body or in your pocket for an instant blast of much-needed heat.
Hot Water Bottles (Yutampo)
A water bottle is absolutely essential for a warm nights sleep, and here in Japan, the yutampo (湯担保) is a popular winter accessory. The Japanese style water bottle is made of a hard plastic rather than the rubbery style we may be used to, but works just the same and is as simple as can be. Fill a yutampo with hot water and throw it in bed to warm your chilly toes all night long!
Buy some nabe gear at your local grocer for cheap and cook this delicious meal right at your kotatsu. There are so many varieties, and not only will it keep you warm, but it is cheap as well! More on nabe here.
Go to Onsen
Find a local onsen or bath and visit it regularly. Not only will you feel amazing, but you will avoid waking up to frozen pipes in your shower! Some public baths have membership cards with discounts for repeated visits.
Get HeatTech. Lots of it. And wear it every day. More on HeatTech here.
If you really want to embrace your inner Japanese side, and break every fashion rule out there, pick up a hanten or two to wear around the house. This short winter coat is traditional Japanese winter clothing padded with warm cotton to keep your upper body warm while you sit beneath the kotatsu. Ask your elderly neighbors where the best place hantens can be found in your community.
For more information on staying warm while saving money this winter, check out this helpful link: Staying Warm on the Cheap.