When I booked my recent trip to Japan, I heard a chorus of pretty much every single person I know telling me how I was going to freeze to death, and get frostbite in my toes and lose a couple fingers. I would also likely get trapped in a blizzard, be forced to dig a cave dwelling into the snow and keep a fire constantly burning in order to survive the harsh winter onslaught. If I was unsuccessful in these efforts, I would turn into an ice monster, doomed to roam the frozen arctic tundra for all eternity.
But seriously, though…I was going to Tokyo and Kyoto, two of Japan’s major cities, not Antarctica after all. They do have modern heating and things like hot showers and hot soup, after all. It’s not like I was planning a trek through the Siberian winter or a cozy February getaway in Svalbard. People are so dramatic. Since there were many of the same people who had told me I was going to be brutally murdered by deadly creatures when I visited Australia and that turned out just fine, I tried not to take too much stock in their fear-mongering.
Yes, I’m from Southern California, and as such, people assume that if the temperature gets below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, I’ll waste away into oblivion. Sure, I complain a fair bit when it’s cold, but it’s hardly fair to assume I can’t travel to a cold place in winter.
Even my mom’s friend at work who is FROM JAPAN said, “Oh, she’s going to freeze” when my mom told him when I would be visiting. I tried not to let that get me nervous, though, since he’s been living in Southern California for the past 15 years now and he’s surely gone a little soft in his ability to deal with the cold in his time here. That’s it, right?
So just how cold was it in Japan in February, after all?
Tokyo was fine. Yes, it was cold, but you spend a lot of time pressed up against other people in the subway, so you end up feeling pretty hot with all that body heat. Plus, a lot of time in Tokyo is spent indoors. You walk into this shop, this restaurant, or this arcade. You do spend some time outside walking around and exploring, but I never got truly cold while I was there. The warm clothes and coat I brought were sufficient, and any time I started to get cold, I would end up back in the subway where, quite frankly, I was sweating. The tiny apartment I stayed in had an adequate heater so I never got chilled to the bone at night, either.
This is where I froze nearly to death. Unlike Tokyo, many of Kyoto’s attractions are outdoors and require some walking around outside. It’s also a little colder in Kyoto than in Tokyo, so combine those two things and I was consistently chilled to the bone despite all my layers. We didn’t let it stop us, but I’ll tell you that the cold was indeed pretty brutal.
In Kyoto, not only was it colder but it was also windy. We also had some rain, and even some snow towards the end of the trip. We ended up hiking to the Arashiyama monkey park to see the snow monkeys in a pretty serious snow storm. Also, I must add that the face masks you see people all over Japan wearing were pretty good at keeping our faces warm. When in doubt, do as the locals do!
I didn’t get fully warmed up the entire time I was there, and only thawed out when I was on the Shinkansen on my way back to Tokyo. It was a cold week!
The weather here was much like Tokyo. Cold, but not unbearably so. Plus, we spent a lot of time inside museums and restaurants, so it wasn’t too bad. I was only in Hiroshima for one day, however, so I can’t judge too much what the weather is normally like. We went on a day trip from Kyoto though, and it was nice to get out of the Kyoto freeze for a day to the relatively mild temperatures of Hiroshima.
Don’t let it stop you if you’re going to Japan and February is the only time you can go, but if you’re going to some of the colder areas of Japan (such as Kyoto…or Sapporo), definitely be prepared with a lot of warm clothes and layers.