What to Wear for Winter in Japan: Guide for First Timers

I’ve been asked by readers on what to wear for winter in Japan, especially in places with sub-zero temperatures like Hokkaido. If this is your first time travelling to a cold country, you may feel apprehensive on what to wear and what to buy. I could totally understand you as I felt the same way before I flew to Hokkaido in winter for the first time.

What to Wear for Winter in Japan

Layering Tips

I’m sure you’ve heard of the term “layering”. It’s important to layer so that you keep yourself warm outdoor yet being able to peel off the extra layers indoor where there is heater (just like an onion LOL!). For temperatures below 0°C, it’s important to have at least three layers on your upper body, thermal bottom, gloves, beanie, water-resistant socks and boots.

When we were in Sapporo (0°C to 5°C), we wore three layers on top and two layers at the bottom. Occasionally, I skipped the thermal inner as I felt very warm when I was shopping in the heated underground malls in Sapporo. Tomamu Ski Resort is SO much colder. Sometimes, we had to wear four layers on top (Ice Village and Terrace of Frost Tree are below -10°C!). In short, this is what we wore:

Upper Body
First Layer: Thermal innerwear
Second Layer: Long sleeve wool or fleece top / T-shirt
Third Layer: Sweater (optional)
Last Layer: Outer winter coat

Lower Body
First Layer: Thermal innerwear
Second Layer: Thermal pants or jeans

Head, Neck & Face
Ear muffs (optional – not so important)
Face mask (important if you have sensitive nose)

Hands & Feet
Gloves (invest in a pair of good gloves!)
Water-resistant or waterproof boots and socks

What to Wear for Winter in Japan

Winter Wear for Edison (All from Decathlon)
1. Wed’ze Ski Hat (knit hat, fully fleece lined) $13.00
2. Wed’ze Freshwarm Children’s Ski Underwear $14.00
3. Wed’ze Children’s Ski Base Layer $14.00
4. Quechua Kids’ Hiking Fleece $10.00
5. Wed’ze Warm Reversible Ski Jacket $45.00
6. Quechua Boys’ Ski Hiking Pants (water repellent and windproof) $25.00
7. Wed’ze Ski Socks $6.00
8. Quechua Waterproof Boots $35.00
9. Wed’ze Ski Gloves $13.00

Thermal Base Layer

It can be challenging to walk around in multiple layers, hence you must choose the RIGHT piece to wear. For this reason, thermal base layer (or long johns) is the most important. It traps our body heat to insulate us against the cold air outside. It covers our entire body and should be worn fitted (not loose). I know our kids grow up fast, but please don’t buy oversized inners. If there are gaps between the base layer and our skin, cold air is likely to sneak in.

Thermal Base Layer

For myself, I bought two types of inners: 1) Uniqlo HeatTech Ultra Warm Inner ($29.90) and Leggings ($29.90) and 2) Universal Traveller Heat Plus+ Ultra Warm ($79.90 per set). Both are equally fantastic in keeping me warm, but the latter is slightly more comfortable to wear.

For Edison, I bought three types of inners: 1) Wed’ze Freshwarm Children’s Ski Base Layer and Underwear ($28.00) pictured above, 2) Universal Traveller Heat Plus+ Ultra Warm ($63.00 per set) and 3) Thermo Fleece Merino Wool Long Johns ($93.00 per set).

 Merino Wool Long Johns

Do you notice the price difference? Hahah! Initially, I was worried that Wed’ze is not good enough because they are quite thin. So, I invested in a set of merino wool thermal for Edison. Merino wool is a natural fiber grown by Merino sheep. It’s thinner and softer than regular wool – making it easy to wear next to skin. Most importantly, it doesn’t itch like other wool.

I’m not sure if there’s any noticeable difference between these 3 types of inners (I’m not the one wearing them!). When I asked Edison, his answer was “They are all the same!” LOL. I guess the most affordable Wed’ze base layer is as good as the premium Merino wool in terms of heat retention.

Outer Winter Coat / Down Jacket

The most important thing to consider when buying down jacket is their materials. Generally, there are two types of materials – down and synthetic.

The down of birds is a layer of fine feathers found under the tougher exterior feathers. Synthetic down is made of polyester fibers designed to replicate the qualities of down. Down is a better insulator, more durable and lightweight. But of course, it’s more expensive too.

Outer Winter Coat  Down Jacket

If you’re on a budget, synthetic down will usually keep you warm with less money. Edison wore two types of down jackets during our Hokkaido trip – 1) Wed’ze Ski Jacket with synthetic down ($45.00) and 2) Universal Traveller with 90% Down ($80.00). The price of a down jacket is almost twice of a synthetic one. I personally think that they are almost the same. Most importantly, we must look for one with waterproof or water-resistant shell fabric.

What Tops Should I Wear?

Natural fibers like wool and cashmere retain your warmth better than synthetic ones like fleece and acrylic. Honestly, I would never buy acrylic sweaters because they make my skin super itchy. Cashmere is the best but it’s very expensive. I’d recommend fleece because they are comfortable, lightweight and able to keep you warm at affordable prices.

For this, I’d recommend Uniqlo HeatTech Fleece Long Sleeve T-Shirt ($19.90) for adult and Quechua Kids’ Hiking Fleece (S$10.00) from Decathlon.

What Bottoms and Footwear Should I Wear?

For myself, I wore the Women HeatTech Warm Lined Pants from Uniqlo ($59.90) and I really like it! The inner fleece lining keeps me warm and the outer polyester shell is water-resistant. I was rolling in the snow and it didn’t even get wet. For Edison, I found that Wed’ze ski pants are too bulky, hence I chose the Quechua Ski Hiking Pants for him.

dison in Wed’ze Ski Jacket

It’s very important to keep your footwear dry in cold weather – else you’ll feel very cold. Therefore, water-resistant or waterproof boots are important to prevent your socks from getting wet from rain or melting snow. All of us bought our snow boots from Decathlon. They are so affordable.

What Accessories Do I Need?

Don’t neglect your head, neck and hands! You can keep these areas wrapped up with a beanie, scarf and gloves to stay warm. Gloves are very important, and they should be waterproof too. I’d recommend buying touch screen-friendly gloves to eliminate the hassle of removing your gloves when you need to use your phone – especially when it’s miserably cold outside.

Your head can get cold easily too. Therefore, wearing a wool beanie can keep you warm. If you have long hair, you can also tuck your hair in neatly. And lastly, scarf can keep your neck and ears warm. You can also cover your face with a scarf when it gets windy. I have a sensitive nose – thus, I prefer wearing face mask. It helps to prevent runny nose.

What else do I need?

My nose is super sensitive and bleeds easily in cold weather due to nasal dryness. Thus, I apply a light coat of Vaselin petroleum jelly in the lining of my nose using a cotton bud. It helps to prevent nose bleeding. If you have similar problem as me, don’t forget to pack a travel size Vaselin!

Lastly, heat pack! They remain hot for at least 8 hours, some brands up to 15 hours. How to use them? You can pop them into your pockets to keep your hands warm or attach them to an undershirt to provide heat around the body and lumbar area. They are extremely toasty and comfortable to use.

I bought these Nuan Bao Bao heat pack from TaoBao (average 80 cents/piece including shipping). This brand was recommended by a friend who loves travelling to cold countries. These heat packs can last for up to 12 hours! I love putting them in my outer jacket pocket. It’s pure bliss to slip my hands in to thaw out my fingers when I was at the ski resort.

Final Word

Wow! I’ve finally come to the end of my post. My fingers are tired of typing already. Honestly, it’s a pain to travel in winter with SO much to pack. But trust me, the beautiful snow in front of you will certainly makes you forget about the weight on your body. I hope this post answered your question on what to wear for winter in Japan. If you’ve any questions, feel free to ask me in the comment section below!

Leave a Comment