While Japan is well-known for its four seasons, autumn goes by in a flash in Hokkaido. Winter arrives in no time at all, and is often accompanied by extreme cold and heavy downfalls of snow!
While most people know to check the local weather before taking a trip out there, not everyone knows how to brace for the cold or the snow. Our locally residing editor is here to give you a break-down on the best tips for preparing with the cold, based on personal experience.
Winter Creeping In As Early As October
Our editor, having experienced winter in both Hokkaido and Tokyo, tells us that by late October, winter is already in full effect in Hokkaido. In recent years, that period seems to arrive a little later, however the end of October is still considered the average time to expect the first snowfall.
In Sapporo, the early half of October tends to be on the warmer side, with average temperatures of about 11.8ºC. But by November, that average has considerably dropped to about 4.9ºC. From December to February, you can expect temperatures to remain below freezing.
If you want to enjoy the beautiful winter wonderland scenery of Hokkaido, it is best to be prepared to face extreme temperatures, which can drop to as low as 10-20º below freezing! If you plan to spend a considerable amount of time outdoors, it is advised to wear solid and reliable snow wear.
If you plan to spend most of the time within the city and other sightseeing areas, you may not need to go that far, however you should still be mindful of what you put on your body. Consider the following points when preparing to travel in the cold:
Tip #1: Be Mindful of Winter Clothing Materials
First and foremost are the bare necessities of winter wear: clothing with high heat retention. For outerwear, you'll want to opt for a down jacket or other thick winter coat. And don't forget your bottoms - many people are so focused on what they put on the top half of their bodies, they completely neglect their lower half.
Aim for warm materials such as wool or corduroy pants, and try to avoid materials like cotton and denim, which tends to get really cold!
For women, if wearing a skirt, we recommend tights or leggings absolutely no less than 80 deniers thick, avoiding sheer materials. On especially cold days, go even thicker with 110 denier tights or warmer materials like wool.
When participating in winter sports and other such activities, it is especially important to take special measures against sweat as well as protection from the cold.
Our bodies sweat as a way of cooling down during intense activities, therefore sweating can make you feel even colder during the winter. To avoid this, you will want to pay extra attention to your inner wear.
One popular tip recommended by the locals is to wear a towel underneath your shirt to absorb the sweat from your back, which you can easily remove or change. Even if you do not plan to engage in strenuous exercise, it is a good idea to pay attention to your inner wear and avoid materials such as cotton, which tends to cool after absorbing sweat.
Tip #2: Gloves, Hats, and Scarves Are A Must!
Basic tip number two for protecting yourself from the cold is, avoid exposing yourself to the open air as much as possible. In Hokkaido, the winter air is said to feel more 'painful' than 'cold,' so it is essential to carry around the three basics at all times: a set of gloves, a hat, and a scarf (snood stoles are also OK).
Hats are especially important when it snows. Many people try to get by using only the hood of their outer wear, however hoods offer no protection for the ears, which are still susceptible to the piercing cold, especially on windy days. If hat-hair is a concern, another option is wearing earmuffs under your hood.
Tip #3: Are Your Winter Shoes Really Winter-Proof?
For footwear, you definitely want to opt for boots. Many people swear by Mouton boots, and boots with inner lining. However, there is one pitfall: if you look at the soles of the boot, you will notice that many of them are not slip-proof, therefore offer no protection for walking over ice and snow!
Anti-slip soles that you can attach to your shoes are often available at convenience stores, or you can buy a pair of winter boots that are made for these conditions locally.
Though the snow in Hokkaido is often said to be smooth and powdery, it tends to leave behind a mess of puddles in its wake throughout the city thanks to road-heating and snow melting agents.
To prevent water from seeping inside your shoes, be sure to waterproof them with waterproof spray before traveling.
Tip #4: Remove Thick Layers Inside Buildings and Transportation!
Here is another tip unique to Hokkaido, and especially Sapporo: the temperature difference between the indoors and outdoors.
Buildings here have excellent thermal insulation, and on top of that are well-heated, so even on the coldest days, the indoors can get pretty warm. Public transportation also tends to be strongly heated. Because of this, you may sweat a lot while indoors, making you more susceptible to catching a cold by stepping outside, even for a short while.
When strolling about the city, dress in layers that can be easily put on and removed, so you can adjust to the immediate temperature conditions around you whether inside and out. For example, it is not recommended to wear a single t-shirt or inner-wear item underneath one thick layer of down or knit that you cannot comfortably take off, which can make it difficult to adjust.
Text by: Minanokotobasha