Nov 9, 2010

How a Tropical Girl Prepares for her First Winter

If you are like me, who have lived all my life in a sunny tropical island, and never visited other temperate countries during winter, then, beware. Winter in Japan can be pretty brutal depending on where you are. Though, like what the locals tell me, I am lucky, there is rarely snow in Hamamatsu. But then, for me who has never experienced temperatures below 10 degrees, winter is still a very scary thing. Especially so for me, because even among Singaporeans, I am not typical. I do not have the luxury of owning an air-conditioner at home, hence I am not the type who is accustomed to an air-conditioned room. I find temperatures below 20 degree Celsius too cold.

Now it is autumn in Japan. Temperatures are typically hovering around 15 to 18 degree Celsius. On rainy nights, it reaches as low as 10. Here’s the time to start training myself for the upcoming cold weather.

To prepare myself for the upcoming winter, I try as much as possible to train my tolerance. Not being able to accept 20 degree Celsius temperatures here, is probably not going to work. Hence, little by little, I try as much as possible not to switch on my air-conditioner heaters, and train myself to get accustomed to the 20ish degree Celsius, and slowly to the 10ish degree Celsius.

Of course, as a tropical girl, when summer is all-year round, I do not have any winter clothes. I bought some, (one set only, actually) before coming to Japan, and since, have been stocking up on autumn and winter clothes when I reached. Warm clothes are somewhat similar to food, I think. When I am hungry, I tend to buy more food. Similarly, as the weather turns colder, I tend to overbuy on the long-sleeve clothes. Urgh. I wonder how I am going to bring all these new clothes back home when I return.

Uniqlo is my best friend. I have been visiting Uniqlo branches very frequently to buy their heat-tech products. There are many other clothes brand with heat-technology incorporated though, such as Heat On, etc.

Fleece jackets. They are a tip from my Japanese friends. Indeed, they are very comfy and warm as homewear. Do remember to stock up on fleece jackets!

Comfy homewear

I really love my tummy warmers. It looks like a neck warmer, except that it is for the tummy area. Perhaps girls will appreciate them more. I tend to have less menstruation cramps when I have them on.

There are a few heater options. First of all, air-conditioner/ heater. The air-conditioners in Japan have dual functions. They are air-conditioner in summer and heater in autumn/ winter.

There are also heaters, which is called ストーブ (sutoobu). They may run on electricity only/ or both electricity and kerosene. However, be careful. My colleagues warned me that I may die of carbon monoxide intoxication if I do not air the room.

Mmm… but airing the room, means opening the room up for cold winds to enter. Let’s see what happens when I finally try these heaters. Currently, I am using the air-conditioner/ heater only.

Cook hot food, especially soupy dishes. Drink hot drinks, like ginger tea. All of these will warm up the body, temporarily. Hotpots (鍋, nabe) dishes are very common in Japan. My neighbour told me that Japanese will also prepare cheese nabe, and soyabean nabe (using soyabean milk) as well. Mmm… looking forward to try out those dishes in winter. Various flavours of nabe stock are also available in supermarkets.

Homecooked oden in Autumn :)

Heat-proofing the House
Thanks to the sempais (JET seniors), I managed to gather some help on how to heat-proof my house. This is what I did: I bought foam-like tapes to seal the sides of the windows of my house. However, do buy more. I only bought 12m, and they only cover 2 big windows in my living room and a small one in my bathroom.

You can also buy bubble wraps, etc. Do read up on Ashley’s blog entry on “8 Ways to Winternize Your Japanese Apartment/ House”. I shall try other tips as the weather changes.

Shut the doors of the rooms. This is one of the easiest to do, and yet also the most visible result. Every time I enter a room, I will shut the door. It helps to reduce the influx of cold air to the current room I am using. Results are significant, trust me on this.

My neighbours told me that they are only using a thin blanket now, whereas I am already using 2 thick ones at night. The thick blanket are called 毛布 (moufu) in Japanese. Another colleague taught me that the correct way should be covering myself with a futon, and then a thick blanket. That way, I will be warmer.

I am yet to try that though, but I will update again once I tried that method, when I get my hands on new futon. :)

I have switched the temperature of the water heater to 40 degree Celsius. The same temperature as the showers at onsens, and some onsen pools. Yes, it’s hot, but it sure feels very comfortable during a cold autumn night.

Perhaps we should all take baths in the bathtub to combat the cold at home.

Another tip taught by my neighbour: Switch on the heater temporarily to heat up the bathroom area, and then enter the room. It’s not economical to leave the heater on for long periods of time though, as it costs quite a bit, compared to an air-conditioner/ heater. But the heater warms up the room much faster than the latter.

Moisturizing the Skin
Do not underestimate the dryness of Japan’s weather. I went without moisturizer for the first 2 weeks, and I started to have tiny cuts on my hands, and soles. My face started to peel as well. Yes, it is that serious.

Now every day, I will religiously apply body lotion on my limbs, hand cream on my hands, lip balm for my lips and of course, moisturizer for my face.

My colleague advised me to get a humidifier, too, as the air-conditioner/ heater will increase the dryness of the air in the house. Mmm.. time to bring back my humidifier from Singapore?

Ok, that’s all for my long post. I shall update more as I discover more tips. :) Stay tuned.