Keeping Warm!

The weather’s funny in Japan isn’t it? One morning you head out, shorts and t-shirt, wiping the sweat from your brow, and then BLAM! that evening it’s so cold you could carve elaborate stained-glass landscapes with your nipples. Well, the season is upon us, and it’s starting to get a bit chilly. Well, just a bit. Because, let’s face it, it’s not really that cold, is it? Okay, some of you are from traditionally warmer climes and it may be a bit of a shock to the system. But for those of you from the wilds of northern America, the south of the Antipodes, or even the north east of England (where wearing anything other than a t-shirt at any time of the year will open you up to accusations of being a shandy drinking poof), it’s not actually that cold, is it?

But, for some reason, it is. And do you know what that reason is? Yes, that’s right. Earthquakes! As we all know, here in Japan the barometer’s needle swings with greater alacrity than a horse suspended above Catherine The Great. However the inhabitants of this sensible and practical nation see insulation as being a real ball-ache to clean up after an earth tremor, rather than something that would keep those aching balls from sweating profusely in the summer or shriveling up like pickled ume in the winter. Paper thin walls? Check. Loft insulation? Nope. Double glazing? Fuck right off.

And so, this leaves the average gaijin with a simple choice: heating bills that would put the GNP of a small South American country to shame, or to spend their winters as chilly as a husky’s chuff. But we here at NAGMAG have taken pity on you. We shall come to your aid. We bring you the top nine ways to keep warm in Japan!


It’s a table that keeps you warm. Simple as that. Well, not really. Actually, it’s a table that has not only a heater attached to it, but also a blanket on top. So, you know those warnings that you get on the side of electric heaters that tell you not to cover them? Or public service advertisements advising you not to dry clothes too near electrical heat sources? Nonsense apparently. The main problem with this, Japan’s favorite winter appliance, is that they are so cozy it’s difficult not to fall asleep under. Should this happen, the best case scenario is third degree burns. Worst case scenario? Lamenting for the rest of your painful, agonizing (though admittedly short) life the loss of your no-claims bonus on your household fire insurance.


Do you live life on the edge? Do you laugh in the face of the kotatsu’s danger? Do you tweak the nose of certain death and stand there cackling maniacally as it quakes in its little boots? If so, this is your kind of heat source. The iori is the traditional Japanese central heating system, quite simply, a sunken hearth in the middle of the room. That’s right; it’s nothing more than a hole in the ground and a roaring fire in your living room. Not the brightest of ideas obviously, as more than 100,000 people found to their cost as the fires swept through the city during the great Edo earthquake of 1923.


Now, we know what you’re thinking: “How is Edo period armor going to keep me warm and how do you expect me to get hold of one without visiting Nagoya Castle, breaking into a display case, disguising myself as one of those mannequins with the armor on, hiding until nightfall before sneaking out and climbing down the walls like a ninja? That seems a little elaborate and unnecessary to me”. Oh, you weren’t thinking that? Our mistake. Anyway, the haramaki, once the must-have outerwear for any feudal lord fighting an enemy, is now the must-have underwear for anyone just fighting a cold. The Japanese, you see, believe that heat escapes, not from your head, but from your belly, and this girdle-esque get up will be worn by elementary schoolers, OAPs and anyone in-between. And the best thing about them is that they can be bought in any department store, negating any necessity of breaking into national heritage centers.

Go to the loo

As confusing as it seems, the Japanese think that the best way of minimizing your likelihood of catching a cold in winter is, strangely enough, to open the windows. Whilst, on one level, this makes sense – fresh air and all that – on another level, it’s completely and utterly bonkers. Many of your offices will be, not just as cold as a witch’s teat, but as cold as the tip of the teat that has unfortunately slipped from a poorly pinned witch’s gown during a witchy snowball fight. There is one area of respite, however, and that is the heated toilet seat, where one can happily while away the hours with a roasty, toasty rump. Don’t spend too long though, as a bunch of arse grapes, warm or otherwise, are no laughing matter.


And no, we don’t mean a misspelt North African capital. A kairo is essentially a miniature, portable warmer. These may come in many forms, electrical, microwavable, but the disposable ones, activated by the breaking of gel capsules within, are most prevalent. In fact these wonderful little things can be kept anywhere. In the pockets to keep hands warm; in the shoes to keep feet warm; and for women there are even sanitary pad shaped ones to keep your, ahem, lady parts warm. Be warned, sitting for too long with crossed legs can result in singed bits, so you can insert your own joke here about smoked kipp [SNIIIPP! That’s quite enough of that! – Good Taste Ed.]


The hottest day on record in Japan was August 16 2007 when the mercury bubbled at a whopping 40.5 degrees around the country. Well, that’s what so-called scientists and meteorologists say. But what do they know, eh? During the winter, Japan’s over-filled and over-heated subway cars quite regularly top this, reaching sweltering levels that makes summer in Death Valley seem nothing more than a trifle sticky*. So, if you wake in the morning feeling a tad on the chilly side, hotfoot it to your local station, cuddle up to the nearest sleeping salaryman, and ride around until spring.

*May not be actual fact

Kerosene heaters

Every season in Japan has its own particular scent. Spring has the wafts of cherry blossom, summer has barbecues in the park, and autumn has the sweet odour of gently decaying golden leaves. Winter has kerosene. Nearly every Japanese home will have a small kerosene heater somewhere, and its smell is ubiquitous in these colder months. Cheap and affective, they are reassuring in that, unlike kotatsu or iori, the only real danger faced is of carbon monoxide poisoning which, as far as a heater related death goes, is rather like slipping into a warm bath. Unless the gas explodes. Then you’re fucked.

Warm Sake

Many countries have a particular food and drink to keep you warm in winter. The British have steaming hot-pots and casseroles. The Swedish drink a warmed, spiced wine called glögg, and the Americans have Krispy Kreme burgers topped with baconaise, a meal that wraps you in a layer of fat so thick that you could survive the coming ice age in little more than a muumuu.

Japan, being a practical country, is no exception, and at winter, many a family will gather round a steaming nabe bowl. But the Japanese, also being an introverted race require social lubrication, which is where warm sake comes in. It heats the body and warms the soul and, as long as you ignore the scientific evidence linking alcohol and exposure to hypothermia, you’ll be snug as a bug in a rug.

Just fucking leave!

Yeah, that’s right. If your teeth are still chattering and your nose still blue after all of that, get out of the country before you lose a toe to frostbite. Get home, order that triple glazing, turn up that thermostat and never think about Japan again.

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