You may be from the North and have no problem coping with Japan’s winter cold. But the temperature can drop low enough to make some of you shiver!
For those who can’t wait for spring, here are some Japanese items to keep you warm. From underwear to food, there are plenty of ways to cope with low temperatures without breaking your wallet. Plus, they’re portable, which means you can stay active without freezing up.
Next time you’re cold, try one or all of them!
Kairo Heat Pads
Tsukaisute Kairo (disposable heating caps) are one of the cheapest ways to warm up quickly. You’ll find a range of sizes and quantities at pharmacies, convenience stores, and even 100 yen stores while you’re on the go.
According to the Japan Weather Association (JWA), Kairo has its roots in “Onjaku”, which referred to heated stones that people wore in their clothing during the Edo period (1603 – 1868). There was also “Kairohai” in the Meiji period (1868 – 1912), a portable container for hemp fragments and charcoal powder. From the Taisho era (1912 – 1926) to the Showa era (1926 – 1989), “Benjin (Benzine) Kairo”, using vaporized gasoline, was a popular way to keep warm.
Kairo as we know it today was first introduced in 1975 by Asahi Kasei, a Japanese chemical company. The company was inspired by US Army foot warmers, JWA noted.
Although there may be some difference in the contents of the package depending on the manufacturer, Kairo generally uses the heat caused by the reaction of iron with oxygen. Included in each pack are powdered iron, activated carbon, salt and water retaining materials. If you open a bag containing a pack, air will enter inside the pack and initiate oxidation, thus causing heat.
You might be inclined to let the bag directly touch your skin to get the most out of the heat. But this should be avoided as it can inflict low temperature burns. Applying the pack to one spot for a long time can cause the same problem. Some Kairo come with adhesives to stick on fabric, while others come in the form of insoles for use in shoes.
Steteco (long underpants)
Roughly the length of Bermuda shorts, the steteco is a Japanese long underpants. Their funny name comes from Sanyuutei Enyuu, a hanashika (comic cat artist), who became popular by dancing in his underwear in 1880. This was shortly after a cholera epidemic claimed 100,000 lives, driving audiences away from vaudeville. Enyuu’s “steteco odori (long underpants dance)” attracted a lot of attention and succeeded in attracting audiences again, says Hayashiya Hikoroku (1895 – 1982), another prominent hanashika.
Prior to this, Japanese long johns were commonly referred to as “momohiki”. But because of this event, the name “steteco” has become commonly used, noted Kotobank, an online dictionary.
Steteco was and still is considered a men’s undergarment, especially for ojisan (middle-aged men). But recently, those with stylish designs have also been introduced targeting young men and women.
The Japanese belly band is another outfit associated with the ojisan. This is partly because of Tora-san, the protagonist of the “Otoko wa Tsuraiyo (It’s hard to be a man)” film series. Portrayed by legendary actor Kiyoshi Atsumi, Tora-san is a middle-aged drifter in a beige suit and headband, who becomes the focus of the goofy comedies that unfold in each episode.
Another famous ojisan in a belly is “Henna Ojisan (strange pop)”. an eccentric played by the late Ken Shimura, who caused nuisance to other characters in sketch comedies. Tora-san and Henna Ojisan also wore steteco.
Although the haramaki is generally considered an item for middle-aged men, the Japanese headband is also used by women as it is very functional and effective in keeping the midsection warm.
While some fancy colored haranaki are available for moms-to-be, others have cute patterns and colors for young girls.
HEATTECH and others
Thermal underwear is no longer uncommon, so you must have tried one. Here in Japan, underwear with heating functions continues to be very popular. It all started when UNIQLO, a Japanese clothing company, introduced its HEATTECH product line in 2003. This product line caught the eye for its functions of generating heat from body moisture. It became an instant hit and now a seasonal tradition. Other brands have followed the trend, contributing to its evolution. In addition to shirts and leggings, there are also steteco and haramaki that are made from these thermal fabrics.
Shogayu (ginger tea)
Shogayu means “hot ginger water” and it’s literally tea brewed with ginger. There are many ways to prepare a cup of shogayu, but one of the easiest is to pour hot water over a few slices of ginger with honey. Since ginger contains elements that help warm your body by extending blood vessels and facilitating blood circulation, shogayu will be a great help in keeping warm during the winter.
During the Heian period (794-1192), ginger was highly valued by aristocrats. During the Meiji era, shogayu was recommended as the drink of choice for those who caught a cold. Now, convenience stores and supermarkets are selling small packets with shogayu ingredients inside, which makes it very easy and quick for customers to brew a cup of ginger tea.