Weather reports are predicting severe winter storms for the next three days.
Holy cow. This means late trains, wind and snow hitting you in the face, and kids coughing on you while you teach.
And here, I just did a post last week on fall.
But here we go. Ready or not, welcome to the winter.
Winter in Hokkaido is no joke–or hanpa nai, in Japanese. If you’re not dealing with the heavy heavy snowfall, it’s the cold or the windchill. I mean, we have places in Hokkaido where the temperature drops to -40 degrees Celsius (or -40 degrees Fahrenheit).
Because of this, you really need to be psychologically and physically ready for the long, cold months.
Here are a few things to think about to help you navigate the coming season:
In the winter, the most important thing to do is to stay healthy, which is not as easy as it sounds. You’re battling the common cold, different types of flu, and other viruses that always seem to be spreading.
Getting sick is no fun, especially if you’re living in cold climates. You just feel so miserable. Plus, it seems that most other people will be sick with you. Keep in mind that hospitals will be crowded during this time, too. The best way to avoid a doctor’s visit is to prevent yourself from becoming sick in the first place.
Make sure that you always wear a mask when you go outside in public areas, especially when there are lots of people around you. Masks are available everywhere, so they’re easy to get. Wash your hands constantly and try not to touch anything that millions of others have also touched. Gargle with solution that you can make on your own, or buy from the store.
You need a heater. Period. If not, you will die.
All Hokkaido homes and hotels come with some kind of heater, or stove, as they call it here in Japan. There are many different types, and each one has its own merits and disadvantages. The cheapest options are probably the space heaters. They won’t give much heat even if you turn it up to high. Most likely, they are electric. The heaters that are built into apartments and cannot be moved because they are attached directly to the walls are usually powered by oil. This is what we have at home. It does the job and then some. It gives off a lot of heat and it warms up our living room quickly. There are also heaters where you have to fill them up with kerosene, but they are movable so you can bring them to any room.
*You also need a humidifier to deal with the winter dryness and also with the effects from the heater.
Make sure you pick up any type of heat “enhanced” clothing at all the clothing stores. The most famous ones are made by Uniqlo, they’re Heat Tech clothing. Me and my husband swear by this one. Like they’re name suggests, they keep you warm and protect against the cold.
I also swear by down winter coats instead of the more stylish pea-coats. I’ve owned both types, but I just think down coats provide more protection against the wind and the moisture than pea coats. When it snows, your body heat tends to melt whatever snow lands on you. Pea coats tend to absorb all the wetness, while down coats with the water-proof outer layer keeps it away from your body.
Also, a good pair of winter boots are necessary. Try to pick long ones that reach to your knees because sometimes, you’ll find yourself wading through one to two feet of snow. Downtown Sapporo is pretty good with keeping the snow off the main thoroughfares, but if you live in the outskirts of the major cities, the path home is usually a trek. Case in point, I have to add an extra ten minutes to my commute because I have to walk through unplowed streets on the way to and from the station.
Boots with good grip will prevent you from falling on the ice. This will also prevent you from getting severely injured. If not, you can buy these stretchable rubber grips you with spikes that you can attach to whatever shoes you are wearing. Go to the local shoe stores to pick up a pair. They’re called suberidome or slip-stoppers.
And, of course, warm hats, gloves, and scarves are also necessary. The gloves, I think, are not optional. Your hands will freeze if you are even outside in the cold for 5 minutes. Also, if you fall and try to break your fall with your hand, they will prevent you from scratching your palms.
Snow Gear for Sports
If you already own your own gear for skiing or snowboarding, this doesn’t apply. However, if you still need to buy them, most of the sports shops will have them on display. New gear is good, but if you’re in the market for used, check out your local second hand stores, like Hard Off or Second Street. They’ll usually have some still good quality gear on sale, but you’re not guaranteed fit or size. If you’re a resident, ask around. There might be some Japanese people or expats who are willing to part with equipment that they no longer need. If not, you always have the option of renting at any of the mountains.
Of course, this only applies if you own a car and will be driving throughout the winter. You need to change your “normal” summer tires into winter ones. I cannot emphasize how much this makes such a difference in saving your life. Winter tires are a necessary component of Hokkaido life, especially if you own a car. They prevent more grip on the road and help you maneuver the icy conditions during slippery periods.
So there you have it, some things to help you get ready for the long winter ahead.
I hope everyone has a safe and enjoyable winter season.