A California Girl's Guide to Surviving the Seasons: Fall and Winter
Here we go! The year is moving fast and it’s time for a new survival guide! Hope it helps and let me know if you have any more questions.
Ah, the fall. My number-one-most-favorite season, especially in Japan! Summers' humidity is gone, it’s not too cold yet, and the colours! My gosh the colours! I’ve never seen trees so vibrant and reds, golds, and oranges so breathtakingly vivid. I love summer but the fall totally wins as my favorite season.
Have I mentioned the colours? They’re fabulous!The humidity is gone, leaving slightly cooler, glorious weather in its wake. Now is a great time to travel or do something outdoors. Try some kabocha (Japanese-style pumpkin) or Japanese sweet potatoes. This is also the time vendors come out with their fires to cook fish on a stick and barbecue mochi on an open flame. Soups and stews are abundant with all the fall root vegetables and the end of the summer vegetables, perfect for a cozy afternoon.
By the end of fall, it’s pretty darn cold. And once those fall leaves are all off it’s just grey winter… Ummm…. I’m thinking guys, it’s just so hard! Fall in Japan is seriously nice!
If you live in a cold area now is the time to start insulating your home. Choose a room and put heavy curtains on the windows and doorways. A rug on the floor to keep your feet warm and maybe a space heater or kotatsu? Japanese buildings have little to no insulation, even in the coldest areas. Ask around about the weather where you’ll be or research online to see how extreme the measures you’ll need to take are. (Bubble wrap on windows is also popular, anything that creates a pocket of air to keep the heat in and the cold out.)
Pull out your layers. It’s still nice out during the day but it gets chilly fast when the sun goes down. Make sure you can add or subtract layers as needed.
Eat everything! Fall has really good food (especially the sweets). Never say no to food.
Explore rural and urban areas. The cities bring out all the fall decorations and flavors, Starbucks has their special blends, and other restaurants do up special fall flavors as well. Rural areas have so much natural beauty at this time it’s simply stunning. The rice is gold and the trees are blazing! Make sure you sample a little bit of both.
We’ve made it, the last (and my least favorite) season! Not to say winter is bad, I got ridiculously excited the two times it actually snowed a little bit in my town. And there are a lot of great things to do in winter--if it would only last from say, December to mid-February I’d be all for winter! As it is, I’m rather tired of always being cold…
Winter sports are very popular in Japan--skiing still takes the lead and snowboarding is catching on more and more with the younger crowd. You can see people all over the slopes teaching their kids barely even walking to ski. It’s like they’re practically born on them, especially in areas with heavy snowfall. Festivals again! Every season has its own festivals and winter has some really cool ones, the most widely known being the Sapporo Yuki Matsuri (Sapporo Snow Festival). Also this is a cool list of the most interesting winter festivals in Japan. I want to go to all of them! I also appreciate not sweating buckets every time I breathe. Sunny winter days are some of my favorites for sightseeing and going for really long walks.
It’s cold. Like, really cold. And when you come from a place that never regularly goes below 65 degrees F (~18 C) it’s a bit of a shock to go under 10 degrees F (~-12 C)! I didn’t properly know how to layer for far too long, and I didn’t own long sleeves until I went back to the States for Christmas (none of the Japanese shirts had sleeves anywhere near long enough). The sun visits, but doesn’t stay. I think the amount of cloudy days is what I dislike the most. I miss the sun. I have discovered I am solar powered, only able to truly function if there have been at least two sunny days in the past week, preferably with some on the weekend so I can go outside and bask in it. It’s also very dry. In a complete 180 from the hot and muggy summers, the winters are cold and very, very dry. My skin was not happy.
Learn how to layer. It’s okay to wear 3 camisoles under 2 t-shirts under 3 long sleeve shirts under a vest under a light jacket under a snow jacket! With a hat, scarf, gloves, and 4 pairs of socks of course. Summer is the time to look fit, winter is the time to be warm.
Get massive amounts of moisturizer as well as a humidifier. I never did get one, cheapo that I am, I just never turn on the overhead fan when I boil water for tea or pasta. I make tea enough times in a day there is always some steam putting water into my air.
I’ve already talked about insulating one room in your apartment to save warmth and energy, but it’s also nice to heat up water and pour it in a water bottle to put into the foot of your futon. Wrap the bottle in a towel so you don’t burn yourself and your toes will be toasty warm from the start! (You could also just get a yutanpo which are actually made for that kind of thing.)
Eat nabe and oden, two popular hot-pot winter dishes everyone can enjoy together. These were made to cook and eat around a kotatsu too so you won't even have to move!
Wear a mask on public transportation and wash your hands like it's your job. Flu season is a killer here, one of my friend’s schools closed down for a day because so many kids were out sick and my school was a ghost town for about 3 weeks. Take precautions so you’re not really sad this winter.
Go skiing! The resorts have all the stuff you’ll ever need, including snow jackets, pants and gloves to rent. I’m 5’10” and though at one place I was wearing men’s pants, they always had something that fit me. Skiing here, both times and places I went, has become one of my most treasured memories from the year.
Don’t be afraid of Fukushima! They have some amazing winter sports and mountains, I always recommend it! It’s such a huge prefecture I actually live closer to those nuclear plants than some of the places I’ve been to in Fukushima are located. Really, it’s okay!
Overall I’ve absolutely loved my experience with the seasons and this time around I’ll be much better prepared. I know now that in the future I need to go live somewhere where fall is a thing but winter isn’t quite so… winter-y. I want to continue to eat with the seasons, it’s actually the most delicious and healthful way to live, and always keep exploring the different festivals. Enjoy!