Welcome back to Part 2 of this series on surviving the cold! Winter is still in full swing here in Aomori, and we are all feeling it I’m sure. While none of these methods are a secret to anyone who has ben living here for at least a few months, I hope you can find some useful information when it comes to choosing your preferred method of keeping warm.
Stoves / Heaters
Essentially there are two kinds of heaters: electric and oil. But each of those categories break down into many more different types of heaters. I won’t outline them all for you, but only the most common ones that I have seen used here.
Many of our apartments and some houses come furnished with a built-in air conditioner in the wall, and for those of you who aren’t blessed with one already they can be purchased for anywhere between ¥40,000 and ¥200,000. Often referred to as a “cooler” (クーラー) or “aircon” (エアコン), these machines are really handy. As you may have guessed, they put in double work as as both heaters and air conditioners depending on the season. Most will have different options for conditioning and dehumidifying, as well as a timer for both turning on and turning off. The biggest downside is that as an electric appliance, it can quickly add a few zeros to your electricity bill in the winter (or summer) months. I recommend not leaving it on all day to keep your place warm, as I often did last year, and instead using the timer setting so that it turns on 20-30 minutes before you get home from work. Or you might prefer to just use other, cheaper methods instead, read on below.
Another common type of electric heater is the “ceramic heater” (セラミックヒーター), which we may be familiar with as “space heater” from back home. These are typically small and inexpensive to buy, but they can cost a lot on your energy bill while not heating up large spaces very efficiently. A lot of ceramic heaters also pull double duty as a humidifier and/or air purifier as well. Humidifiers are so great to have in the winter because, if you’re anything like me, the winter air makes our skin very dry and cracked and having heaters running in every room only makes the air drier. Humidifying the air helps to lessen that effect, as you may have seen in your classrooms and teacher’s rooms. I recommend using one of these for a small space, such as a bathroom or short hallway, and not relying on it to heat a room.
There are a number of other electric heaters, such as carbon and halogen heaters, which are most more energy-efficient, but can vary in price. Also, since they are infrared heaters, these don’t heat up the air in the room but instead heat the objects directly facing the heater. Click here for more info on infrared heaters. Personally, I don’t have much experience with infrared heaters outside from outdoor use, but if you are looking to make your room cozy I’m not sure if this is what you want.
Lastly, we have the classic kotatsu (こたつ), a fan-favourite and traditional Japanese heater for many centuries. Kotatsu are another cost-efficient way to stay warm in the winter, because they tend to be inexpensive and only have to heat the small area under the table. But of course, this means only the area under the table is warm. Either way, it is a useful object for eating meals and relaxing while staying warm, and not spending as much as you would on a ceramic heater or aircon.
Gas heaters come in many varieties, the most popular around here being kerosene (灯油, touyu). The kerosene heater can often be a cheaper option in the long run, especially compared to electric heaters, but this is of course dictated by the price of kerosene and how often you use it. Kerosene heaters also have a wide range, and can heat up an entire room very quickly. One of the main concerns with kerosene, however, is carbon poisoning, which can happen if you don’t allow proper air circulation in the room. Therefore, when using a kerosene heater, you have to let in some air from the outside in order to safely use the heater, which seems a bit counter-intuitive.
Oil heaters, as you can imagine, are very similar to kerosene heaters but they run on oil instead. Oil tends to be a bit more expensive, and that’s why it is a less common choice. Depending on the area, you may end up spending as much or even more money on oil than you would have on your electricity bill, so make sure to research how much the oil actually costs near you before investing in a heater. However, you will not have the same air circulation issue, as most oil heaters are built like a standard radiator, and thus they do not emit toxic gas into the air. These heaters take much longer to heat an entire room, but they can get the job done if you are worried about carbon poisoning.
All gas heaters tend to have a more expensive up-front cost than electric heaters (not including air conditioners), but they will save you money in the long-run if you don’t mind buying the gas every time you run out. For some, the struggle of having to leave your house to buy more gas every week or so is too much, and even storing some in bulk might be a pain, as it is very difficult (impossible) to clean once it has leaked or spilled.
Kairo and Yutanpo
Japanese kairo (懐炉) are your new best friend. Kairo are small, pocket-sized hand warmers, meant to be put inside gloves, shoes, pockets, and just about anywhere else you’d like to warm up. They are cheap, can be easily found at the 100-en store, hardware store, pharmacy, or supermarket, and they fit just about anywhere. Once you open the packaging, they are meant to stay hot for at least 8 hours, but some are better than others. There are many types of kairo, including some shaped for footwear and some with a sticky side for attaching to your clothing. These ones in particular come with warnings not to attach to the skin, because you could burn yourself. I don’t think the kairo get hot enough to really cause any damage, but it’s better to play on the safe side and stick to Japan’s rules on this one. You should still feel the warmth with a thin layer of t-shirt or heat-tech between you and the pack. For more information on kairo, check out these 2 great articles from matcha-jp.com and 2aussietravellers.com.
Yutanpo (湯たんぽ) is the japanese word for “hot water bottle,” and it is literally the same as a hot water bottle from my home country of Canada. Some of them come in very cute shapes and designs, like popular characters, while others are just your typical red rubber bottle. It’s an underrated but very economical method of keeping your bed warm throughout the night, and even just for putting on your lap at the office or when relaxing at home. Here is a little extra info for you.
The electric blanket, called denki moufu (電気毛布), is another ingenious invention for keeping warm, especially if you need the heat to get through the night. Most tend to be in the range of ¥2000-¥5000, and they don’t use a lot of electricity to trap the heat underneath. This will keep you warm for long periods of time, but unfortunately will not heat the whole room and is often not very portable. Also, remember to unplug it when not in use to prevent accidental electrical fires.
Onsen and Baths
Last but certainly not least, I would regret not mentioning one of Japan’s greatest cultural attractions: the onsen. If you aren’t a regular onsen-goer already, and you are seeking ways to stay warm, consider going a few times a week after work just to get the blood flowing and warm you up. No matter where you are, there is definitely an onsen close by, or perhaps many. Taking a nice hot bath at home can achieve the same thing, but I’d recommend placing a small space heater in your bathroom for when you get out of the tub to avoid that shocking cold sensation of the air. Of course, when you’re not just relaxing at home and you have actual things to do, getting in the tub might not be ideal. But in those cases, sticking to some tried-and-true heat tech clothing combined with a lot of layers can never do you wrong.
Whatever method you choose, good luck to you and stay warm this winter!