Despite yesterday being Risshun, the first day of spring, the weather is still very chilly here in the Kanto area. In fact, it is supposed to snow tomorrow!
The last “5 Ways to Stay Warm in Japan” post was a huge hit, having been translated and summarized on the Searchina website.
Thus, given the continuing cold weather and the popularity of the previous post, I’d like to introduce five more ways to keep warm in Japan.
1. Go to an onsen (or just take a bath!)
I find nothing more calming and warming than going to a public bath or onsen (a Japanese hot spring), particularly in winter. One of my favorite winter memories in Japan is the time I went to a local onsen with a good friend after skiing. We gossiped, kept warm in the outdoor bath (called a “rotenburo”) and watched the snow fall as the sun set. Just thinking about it is making me smile, guys. The water is very hot, heated naturally by the earth, so even when the temperature is below freezing, even the outdoor baths at the onsen are just right.
Many onsen also have saunas, germanium baths, and stone-bed rooms, all of which are ways to further keep warm at the onsen.
If bathing naked with friends or a bunch of strangers doesn’t appeal to you, taking a good old-fashioned bath at home is a great way to keep warm.
In Japan, taking a bath has been made into an art, so there are several things you can do to further the effectiveness of your warming bath. First of all, there are “lids” that can be placed on top of the bath as insulation to keep the bath water warm. Most varieties can be peeled back just enough that you can slide into the bath without exposing much of the water to the air.
Secondly, you can put warming bath powders into your bath. A famous bath salt brand in Japan is the German brand Kneipp, with two popular choices for staying warm being Orange and Linden Blossom, and Lavendar, and it can be bought, along with other powders, at most drugstores. Another bath powder brand that is recommended is called “Magma Onsen” — I believe it has a flame on the package, so fairly difficult to miss! Besides powders, other ingredients can be placed into the bath water to further warm yourself. These ingredients include yuzu (Japanese lemon), yomogi (Japanese mugwort), mokusakueki (wood vinegar), Nihonshu (Japanese sake/rice wine), and Himalayan rock salt.
Of course, after you are done taking a bath, whether you go to an onsen or use your home bath, be sure to drink lots of water to stay hydrated.
2. Use a warming gel
One item that really surprised me in Japan was warming body gel. I first received a sample packet when I checked into a Toyoko Inn. The gel was advertised as a “slimming gel” that would “burn away fat.” I’m not sure if the fat is gone, but the gel sure was hot!
Many of the warming gels are sold as cellulite-fighting cosmetics, but why not kill two birds with one stone? Some examples of the names of the gels are “Capsaicin Cream” and “Volcano Spark Gel.” With names such as those, how could they not warm you up?
3. Drink some hot tea (or sake!)
Personally, since I have a serious sweet tooth, I go for hot chocolate and cafe au lait when I’m feeling cold, but when in Japan, do as the Japanese and reach for some tea or sake!
There are tons of teas to choose from in Japan, but some are particularly warming. For example, black tea, Chinese Pu-erh tea, ginger tea, cinnamon tea, and citrus tea are all highly recommended. Many of my friends and coworkers say that ginger tea with honey is the best way to keep warm in the winter.
Another way to stay warm with a drink is to have a cup of sake, Japanese rice wine. Many glass sake bottles are microwave safe, ready to put in the oven. My favorite happens to be amazake, a sweet, thick, white sake with low alcohol content.
4. Eat some delicious oden or nabe
Japan has some really great warm winter foods.
One of my favorite winter activities is having a nabe party. A nabe party consists of a portable cooking stove, a large pot, some soup stock (such as kimchi, pork bone, miso, etc.), ingredients (such as various vegetables, tofu, noodles, and meat), and, of course, friends to share it with. Be careful, though; the smell will stay in your futon for quite a while. Not that this is a bad thing — I had a delcious-smelling futon for a week after a nabe party was held in my tiny apartment.
Another popular Japanese winter food is oden. Oden is a soup with tofu, burdock root, konnyaku, kelp, potatoes, radish, among other hearty ingredients. You can make it yourself from scratch or a kit, or, more conveniently, it can be found all over Japan in 7-11s and convenience stores throughout winter.
5. Break out the winter futon and anka or yutanpo
Part of the unique Japanese lifestyle is the futon. One of the best accessories for a futon in winter is a down comforter. The recommended way to sleep with a down comforter is to place the down comforter directly on your body and then put a heavy quilt over top of the comforter to keep it in place, since feathers comforters are fairly light. If you can’t afford a down comforter, a thick cotton comforter, with a fluffy blanket and “anka” is a great alternative.
An “anka” is a Japanese foot warmer than is used directly under your feet at the foot of the futon. In the past, charcoal was often used to heat the anka, but now most are electric powered. Similarly, a yutanpo is an item that can be used in bed to keep warm. A yutanpo is basically a hot water bottles. The upside is that, unlike an anka, it doesn’t use electricity and doesn’t require cords, but it does tend to cool down during the night, while an anka will stay warm.
I hope this article helps keep you warm until spring!