Japan Winter Itinerary Part 8. What to Wear in Japan to Survive Japan Winter Season
A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to Japan while the country was hit by the heaviest snow and coldest temperatures in recent years. This winter vacation packing list shows how I prepared to survive my trip to the Japanese winter wonderland in freezing weather.
I’m a wimp when the chilly wind blows. A blanket becomes my best friend. I love to cuddle with my dog under the blanket and fall asleep while watching a movie or reading a book. But that doesn’t stop me from traveling. Because I don’t function well in cold weather, I need to be extra well-prepared. Before I knew, I became an expert in packing for winter vacation. Here are the winter vacation packing tips based on my own trials and errors.
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This post is part of Winter in Japan Series:
- Part 1. Things to Do in Kanazawa in Two Days
- Part 2. Behind the Closed Doors of Geisha House in Kanazawa
- Part 3. Where to Stay in Kanazawa: Kanazawa Hotel Review
- Part 4. Things to Do in Toyama: Toyama City Guide for the First-timers
- Part 5. Shirakawago Winter Light Up Festival
- Part 6. Where to Stay in Takayama: Takayama Hotel Review
- Part 7. What to Expect from Traditional Japanese Ryokan Stay
- Part 8. What to Wear in Japan: Japan Winter Season Edition?
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1. Layer, Layer & Layer
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of layering. Layering works way better in retaining heat than wearing one thick jacket. And did you know there is a smarter way to layer?
Photo | Left: What I Packed for the Snow Country Japan | Right: All of them plus one packable down jacket and my Canada Goose parka in compression bags and packing cubes for suitcases
> The First Layer (Top & Bottom)
The first layer directly contacts your skin beside your underwear. I like to keep this layer snug. Choose wool or synthetic. Cotton doesn’t retain much heat.
I love Uniqlo Heattech leggings (similar here) and a heated thermal shirt as the first layer. They not only keep me warm and toasty but also protect my sensitive skin from getting irritated by wool sweaters. This innerwear), made of synthetic materials, wraps your body as if they are another layer of your skin. Did I mention they are also moisture-wicking?
> The Mid Layer (Top & Bottom)
The mid-layer for insulating is worn over the first layer, such as sweaters and pants.
My choice for the top would be sweaters made of wool, cashmere, or alpaca. They are much lighter and warmer than cotton. Besides its warming function, packing cashmere or alpaca sweaters is a much better use of precious luggage space than other bulky winter sweaters because they are so much lighter and thinner. My favorite is the soft and fluffy alpaca-blend sweaters by Vince (here, here, here)!
For the bottom, opt for corduroy pants or fleece-lined leggings instead of jeans if you want to be extra warm. I often wear stylish plush leggings inside a pair of winter boots even when I’m not traveling.
However, my first pick would always be jeans unless I travel to an extreme-cold region. Now you understand my inner struggle? We girls still want to look cute even when the temperature outside drops below the freezing point. Jeans can also work, but know that they don’t retain heat well. If you want to stick to your jeans, I would suggest wearing Uniqlo Heattech leggings underneath. I specifically recommend this brand because it’s thin enough to go under skinny jeans.
> The Extra Insulating Layer (top)
The extra insulating layer can be lightweight down or fleece jackets. It can be worn on top of the insulating layer or without. Unless I’m going to an extremely cold-weather region, like a snowy mountain, I would generally skip this step. I don’t think it’s necessary to have two insulating layers for inner-city activities. It gets annoying to have to take it off whenever I go inside a cafe or museum.
Regardless, I like to pack Uniqlo women’s ultralight down jacket. It makes no difference in packing luggage because you can roll it up and stick it in on the corner. When you go out, it’s easy to bring it around in your travel backpack in case you need it in the evening. Or, wear it as outerwear when the weather suddenly warms up.
This Uniqlo ultralight down jacket (or this vest) is a budget-friendly inner-layer jacket, perfect for travel. But if you are willing to invest in a more stylish, high-end one, you can check out a Moncler gilet (padded vest).
> The Outerwear (Top)
Outerwear is probably the most massive and bulkiest item. For winter travel, I usually pack one wool-blend coat for the classic look and one heavy-duty down-insulated parka for the extreme weather. I usually wear the bulkiest piece on a flight so that it doesn’t take up too much space in my luggage. If that’s not an option – e.g., because you live in a warm-weather area, I highly recommend using compression bags for travel.
Speaking from my experience, a little bit of investment will go a long way. When I was searching for the best heavy-duty down jacket, I first heard about Canada Goose from my Canadian friends. Although I trusted their recommendation, I hesitated a bit because I couldn’t justify a hefty price for a high-end winter jacket for the relatively warm winter in my town.
I finally pulled the trigger when I planned a winter vacation to Seoul and Shanghai. Ever since then, this Canada Goose jacket has been my go-to item on my winter vacation packing list. Most recently, I wore it EVERY SINGLE DAY for ten consecutive days during my Japan winter vacation to the Japanese Alps region and Tokyo. It’s quite an investment piece yet the best down jacket I ever owned!
If you still need more stylish options, consider Moncler padded coat. I love their French chic puffer jackets for belted designs and feminine silhouettes.
Photo (Left): Hang the jacket on your shoulder indoors. (Right): Keep yourself warm in snow.
Why I love Canada Goose
I can’t seem to stop speaking highly of Canada Goose jackets (FYI, Canada Goose is not paying me for endorsing its brand). That’s because I very much appreciated their thoughtful design and construction. I mean, the designers have run every scenario and put much thought into creating this amazing winter coat.
- The entire jacket is built to protect you from any loss of body heat. The rim of the detachable hoodie is wired inside so you can shape it around your face.
- It has built-in wristbands, so no wind penetrates under the sleeves.
- The jacket also has so many functional pockets in and out of the coat to store everyday essentials like a cell phone and winter accessories like gloves.
- Two built-in straps inside the jacket come in handy inside the heated building; they allowed me to “hang” the parka on my shoulder instead of carrying it around by the arm.
- Most importantly, Canada goose down parkas will 100% satisfy even the biggest wimp for the cold weather (like me) with the warmth it provides! Each Canada Goose down jacket comes with a different warmth level (“Thermal Experience Index”).
- You can determine which model you need based on your cold-temperature tolerance and travel destination. I like Lorette, Rowley,Rossclair, or McKenna as they are more feminine and stylish than mine.
2. Scarf up!
When the temperature drops, protecting the neck is crucial. When my neck is warm, I feel significantly warmer. In the extreme cold, I would even layer scarfs — one thin inside the jacket, another oversize blanket scarf outside.
Scarf also makes a great statement on winter outfits. It’s versatile to wear as a scarf or shawl, and even work as an improvised mask. Good-quality winter jackets require some investment and can be bulky to pack. Instead of bringing multiple winter outerwear, by changing up scarves, you can achieve different looks in your travel photos while saving precious space in your suitcase.
A couple of years ago, I received an alpaca scarf from Peru as a gift. This has changed my winter shopping pattern forever! Alpaca is not only a cute animal I’m dying to see in person one day, but its wool is extremely soft and warm! Alpaca wool is not cheap; however, I’m a strong believer that investment in quality winter gear pays back over time. If not alpaca, try cashmere scarves like this and this. (And I adore this classic Burberry scarf!) Or, timeless wool-blend scarves like this or this.
COLD-WEATHER PACKING TIPS
#1. Treat your garments with an anti-static spray. Avoid unpleasant electric shocks. Yikes! (See my tip #7 below.)
#2. Travel vacuum storage bags are the champion of space savers! It’s incredible how much air gets sucked out. Usually, compression bags for travel are roll-up rather than vacuum sealed. Put your sweaters in the plastic bag, “compress” the air out by rolling it up, then zip it. No vacuum is needed!
The best compression bags for travel I used are from a local dollar store. (I also have used regular vacuum storage bags with no vacuum, which saved much more space than using packing cubes for suitcases.) As the discount stores can be hit or miss, I include links for more compression bags for travel here, here and here.
3. Cold-Weather Accessories Are Your Saviors
Earmuffs, are you kidding? I graduated from them by the 3rd grade!
That’s what I thought until I traveled to Korea a couple of years ago in its coldest month. I was bravely waiting for a bus outside for five minutes and started having excruciating pain in my ears as if they would fall off. Never again!
Fortunately, earmuffs have become a fashion statement for ladies so many stylish earmuffs are available (here).
If you are still not convinced to wear earmuffs, you can wear a beanie (similar: here, here, here) to protect your head and ears at the same time.
And don’t forget to pack gloves. I recommend wearing a warm pair of touchscreen gloves (similar: here, here, here). Taking off your gloves every time you want to take photos with your cell phone? Believe me, it gets annoying pretty fast.
>> What to Wear in Japan in Winter? Shop my closet here!
4. Invest in Waterproof, Slip Resistant, Insulated Winter Boots
Ugh, wet feet in the cold.
Feet are the most vulnerable body parts as you might have to put your feet in the snow or on the icy road when you are traveling in cold weather.
You can layer socks (try Uniqlo Heattech socks) or choose wool-blend socks to keep your feet warm, but you will need a pair of good snow boots that are waterproof (or water-resistant), insulated and slip-resistant (non-skid).
When I was planning to visit snow county in Japan, I needed to purchase a pair of insulated slip-resistant boots. (I had a bad memory of slipping on an icy road in Korea and was bedridden for two weeks. I wasn’t going to repeat this mistake!)
I will be honest. I wasn’t happy with what I found after searching for women’s insulated winter boots for a while. They are not the most stylish boots for ladies. Regardless, this would probably be the appropriate time to compromise form over function. I ended up getting Ugg Snow boots because they are not only waterproof, insulated with authentic sheep wool and slip-resistant with Vibram(R) outsole, but also sturdy and relatively cute. Other functional and cute options: Sorel Snow Boots, Helly Hensen Boots
Guess what? On the day I landed in Tokyo, a snowstorm smashed the city with the heaviest snow in four years. I was glad to be wearing my slip-resistant boots! When everyone on the road was carefully walking not to slip, I strode the icy road in confidence.
5. Get those Disposable Heat Packs!
Do you think those disposable heat packs are silly? Then, think again.
If you expect to walk outside for an extended period, I would recommend bringing some heating patches with you.
My hands and feet get cold easily even with fleece-lined gloves and boots. Sometimes, I need to find an extra source of heat. That’s when these body heat packs come in handy.
Try Japanese heat patches like this Kairo heat pack. I bought a Japanese heat patch (photo on the left) at a drug store in Japan, which really helped me get through the day in the country’s historic snow blast (similar: here, here).
1.Belif The True Moisturizing Cream (travel size)//2. Radha Rosehip Oil //3. Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion (travel size) //4. Laneige Water Sleeping Mask (travel size) & Lip Sleeping Mask (travel size) //5. L’Occitane Shea Butter Hand Cream //6. Dr. Jart Vital Hydra Solution
6. Dehydrated skin needs extra moisturizing.
A cold wind comes with dry air. Cold air naturally can’t hold as much moisture as warm air. When we start turning the heat up, it only gets worse. This is why extra moisturizing is a must in winter.
My beauty regimen changes at home as I notice my face gets drier in winter. It’s not a pleasant feeling, but more importantly, dehydrated skin can lead to more wrinkles. I switch out a gel-type moisturizer with a cream-based one (like moisturizer for dehydrated skin – full size, travel size) and add facial oil for dehydrated skin. I also use a Korean sheet mask (or this) or hydrating mask at least twice a week.
While I prefer to make the beauty routine as simple as possible when traveling, I prepare for the worst in winter because I most likely won’t have the resources (e.g., a humidifier) I have at home. I like to bring those Korean sheet masks (this and this) that are easy to toss in my bag and use at the end of the day before my tired body jumps into bed. I also love to use this Korean sleeping mask (travel size) and lip sleeping mask (travel size) that I can leave on overnight to protect my skin from the dry air in a hotel room. I use these sleeping masks on long-haul flights, too. (You know the air on a flight is super dry, right?) It’s discreet enough that no one will know you applied a beauty mask on your face. Shhh!
Other body parts also need extra TLC in winter. On day 2 of my Japan winter trip, I got dry hands; the cuticles around my nails had cuts and some of them even got stripped off, making it a bit painful. What about your feet, hair (travel size) and whole body (travel size)?
While everyone’s skin reacts differently to temperature changes, be on the safe side if you are not sure. It would be troublesome to find a drugstore in an unfamiliar place and search for the right product for you among unfamiliar brands.
Thirsty Skin? Try These Game-changing K-Beauty Products for Glowing Skin!
You won’t regret trying out my Korean skincare recommendations (non-sponsored, 100% personal experience):
7. Stay Away from Unpleasant Statics
What happens dry air meet wool or fleece? Statics! I hate the unpleasant surprise when opening a door or taking off my wool sweaters. So have you wondered how to get rid of statics on clothes? I make sure to spray all my winter outfits with anti-static spray BEFORE I put them on. I even spray on the wool lining of my insulated winter boots. If possible, I do this the night before. When I travel, I pre-treat clothes with anti-static spray (and dry) before folding them into the packing cells. Then, stick in some dryer sheets in-between clothes. Once I get to my hotel, I spray Static Guard the night before I wear them. You might think it’s a lot of work. But that’s just how much I hate statics. If you are concerned about airline security rules, know that bringing a travel Static Guard Spray (1.4 oz) in your checked-in luggage is safe. I usually pack the bottle in a plastic ziplock bag to avoid any leak inside the suitcase. Afraid of touching metal doors in your cashmere sweater? First, ensure your hand, body, and hair have enough moisture. Wear a pair of leather gloves. It helps minimize the shock.
8. Boost Your Immune System
Have you ever gotten sick on a trip? Nothing is worse than that. Nah, I refuse to catch a cold and ruin my vacation. I’m not one of those who can still go out and about when I’m sick. When the temperature drops, the immune system weakens. The key is to boost your immune system before/during the trip. I never travel to a cold-weather region without these few things. (Well, actually, I take these on almost all trips.) These are all easy to carry in a bag.
- Airborne Vitamin C: Drop one tablet in water to take in 1000mg of Vitamin C.
- Propolis throat spray: As a person who always gets a sore throat, I swear by propolis. Spray right the moment you feel like you are coming down with something.
- Hand sanitizer: One thing Covid-19 taught us is that hand hygiene is so important.
Where to Go Next in Japan
>> Where to Stay in Tokyo First Time: A detailed guide of 9 best neighborhoods to stay and things to do in each area
>> Tokyo District Guide – Ginza: the glitzy shopping and entertainment district in the capital city of Japan
>> Tokyo District Guide – Omotesando & Aoyama: A hip, modern neighborhood dubbed Tokyo’s Champs-Élysées
>> Tokyo District Guide – Asakusa: Imbibe in traditional Japanese architecture and visit Sensoji Temple, Japan’s spiritual center
>> How to Rent a Kimono in Asakusa: Wear a beautiful traditional Japanese dress and take photos of a lifetime for the ‘gram!