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Winter Tips

Updated: Feb 13, 2020

It's finally beginning to snow up here. We've had an unusually warm winter this year, with virtually no snow sticking to the ground as of late. But last night, it snowed heavily for the first time, and the bright sunny days don't seem to be deterring it at all. It's a nice change for me. It had started to feel like it was not quite the right season to me at all.

The one downside to the whole snow thing is that it is consistently colder, which means that my apartment is much harder to heat and keep warm. Japanese apartments (and houses in general) are not as well insulated as American ones, and there are a lot of reasons for that. I have been told a wide variety of reasons, but since I cannot confirm any of them, I'll just leave it at the facts that I know.

It's not insulated very well.

My apartment is a rather decent sized one, and at a fair rent of just shy of $400 USD (or 40,000 yen). I have three rooms to it (not bedrooms, but room). One of the rooms is a tatami room, which has its ups and downs in its own way. I live on the first floor, so I do find myself with the draft from the underneath of the building seeping up through the tatami and invading the space, so this time of year, I keep the room closed nearly all the time.

My shower room is also frighteningly cold, and I sometimes wear flip flops while showering to combat the cold plastic floor.

But with the winter comes winter festivals, so I have nothing to complain about there. Starting this weekend, winter festival season is alive and active in Akita prefecture. It is probably my favorite time of year, because the winter festivals are unique and I find it easier to bundle up for warmth than to stay cool for summer ones. (That and as a Minnesotan, I'm not the single biggest fan of warm weather - more of a winter girl.)

But bundling up for warmth isn't always as easy as it seems. That I have learned the hard way. Here in Akita, it's hard to fully escape the cold of winter. As a hard core Minnesotan, I thought nothing of winter when I first came here, besides the occasional perilous driving trip from an ice storm. But winter here is very different from back home, and I have to admit that while it has not gotten nearly as cold as it does back home, the fact you can't escape the cold makes it so much worse for some reason.

So from one walking ice pop to another, let me share my winter tips for northern Japan living.

  1. Layers are your friend. So are heattech. They can be bought off season in the spring for a cheaper price.

  2. Kerosene is used for heating in most places. If you've got weak lungs (or just general sensitivity like myself), it's okay to have to go outside for a walk for fresh air.

  3. Oil space heaters are expensive to run, but man do they work.

  4. Air cons will heat up the space decently, but remember! Hot air rises.

  5. Kerosene is the cheapest to run, but be sure to fill it outside your apartment. Also be very mindful of keeping air circulation going, as it can build up carbon monoxide in the space. It shouldn't be run for more than a few hours before you open and window or exchange the air somehow.

  6. Use a humidifier to keep your sinuses from drying out (and potentially bleeding!) You can get them cheaper on Amazon or look at a second hand store.

  7. A heated pad will help warm up your bed. So will the heattec bedding from Nitori or Aeon. You can buy this cheaper come February or March, so if you can endure until then, you can get a little bit of savings!

  8. Thick socks are awesome, but combined with hot packs in your shoes you will be good to go. But be aware that there is only so much you can do to prevent cold feet when you're outside for extended periods of time.

  9. If you have a little oven or extra cooking appliances, cooking with them will help warm up your place. Plus moving around will keep you warm, even if all you want to do is crawl under the blanket.

  10. If you have anything leather or wood, try to cover with a blanket or cloth. (Think of covering couches or using rugs. The less your feet touch the cold floor, the better you'll feel!)

  11. House slippers help a lot. Like, a lot a lot.

  12. Change out of your work clothes and into warm house clothes when you get home. Some people keep their apartments heated while they are gone, but this can wrack up your bills. I change out of my work clothes, so they can be worn again, and into fuzzy home clothes.

  13. Dryers help heat up the apartment too. (That is if you are lucky enough to have one. Thanks Dad!) But be warned that sometimes the dyer is all you can run. Japanese apartments have lower caps on electrical use than American ones.

  14. As a curly haired girl, I don't like using a hair dryer that often. So I got a terry cloth head towel to keep my hair from the freezing air and prevent headaches and head colds.

  15. Cold air outside getting to you? Use a mask to warm it up!

Here are some general winter tips that I've picked up since being here too.

  1. The air will be dry, and so will you. Use hand lotion and chapstick to prevent cracking skin, and try to drink extra water.

  2. Do your shopping right away after work. You might not want to leave once you've come home.

  3. Wake up early to brush off your car, and get a big scraper from the home store. The snow isn't quite as heavy, but it is abundant.

  4. Lift your windshield wipers at night so it's easier to clean off.

  5. You can buy vitamin D tablets at the drug store. If you start taking them before winter hits, you'll probably feel better.

  6. Lap blankets at work. A must.

  7. Do a little exercise everyday. It will warm you up and keep your spirits up.

  8. Hot coffee at the convenience store is a tad bid more money than the stuff in the fridge, but works as a drink and a hand warmer when you're out and about.

  9. Secondhand stores are a great place to get heaters. They are still expensive in comparison to America, but they are a better price. Keep a look out and don't be afraid to check back frequently.

  10. The sun will rise before you get to work, and set before you leave in the dead of winter. You can combat some winter blues by getting a sunlight, or a natural light bulb. The light bulb can be found at most home stores, but be sure to walk around to find the best price for it! You probably won't need one that lasts 10 years, so save yourself some money!

  11. Plan for extra time when driving places. Google maps might direct you down some really questionable roads, so you might have to stay on main roads to force the redirection to avoid some really rough spots.

So there are some of my winter tips that I have had to pick up on the way up here. I think the best way to learn is by experience, but hopefully some of you might avoid the rough patches I had the first year here. What about you? Do you have any winter tips?

Love always, Laura Ann

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