The Japanese winter is not really cold. At least not for someone used to the snow and cold of borthern Sweden. Which does not mean you and your kids can not get bad colds if you are not careful. You have to dress right.
In Japan, Uniqlo has a line of specially engineered clothes - Japanese high tech - that keep the heat close to the body and wicks away the sweat that would cool you off if it was allowed to stay on your skin. Ito Yokado, the department and supermarket part of the group that owns the 7-11 convenience stores, has a similar line of clothes. But while Uniqlo also has some clothes in childrens sizes using the HeatTech technology.
Uniqlo and H&M and all their competitors have clothes for a little bit bigger kids - toddlers and up. Not so much for babies in strollers. And stroller bags are unknown. The best you can do is most likely a blanket. If you have winter gear for your baby, you should bring it. If not, you need one of the specialized baby goods stores, or the department store baby departments. But the specialized baby goods stores are not located in the center, and the department stores are expensive. So if you have small kids the stores may not be much help. And watch the sizes. Our kids are five but "European size", which means they wear clothes intended for Japanese second graders.
Overheating the homes
In Japan, strangely enough for such a high-tech oriented country, thermostats often seem to have two settings only: Off and max. The Japanese traditional heaters worked that way, but that was more than two hundred years ago. Today the airconditioners in homes double as heaters, leveraging the heat pump in the air conditioner that takes the heat from the inside air and dumps it on the outside. They have very sophisticated sensors, and are able to direct the hot (or cold) air to the spots in the room where people are, achieving a comfortable temperature on the way.
But the normal way a home, or a hotel room, are heated is not that way.
In winter the train companies also switch on the heating beneath the seats. It is nice if you get wet in a rainstorm (or snowstorm), but it gets a bit too toasty on everyday trips. The seats can be uncomfortably hot, and you start worrying that your kids will burn their fingers.
The muffler winter wear
The Tokyo and Kyoto areas are about 5 degrees centigrade in winter, although the temperature can get up to 15 degrees. But if it snows then the temperature can go down to zero, even if it rarely drops below. It does not snow every year either.
Most people do not really put on winterwear, at least not compared to other countries. Heattech keeps you warm with a thin sweater or jacket on, and when you enter the overheated rooms you can take it off. Many people only wear a muffler for winter clothing.
The air-driven heater pads
Not everyone feels warm with only underwear and a sweater, or even a winter coat. If you are sensitive, or if you are going to be outside for more than a few hours, you will want a heating pad.
In Japan, you can buy heating pads in packs of ten or more. They are packed in an airtight bag, and when you open it the air starts reacting with the chemicals in the pad, and heat up. The pads are adhesive so they stick to your clothing, keeping you warm where you need it.
Just be careful if you put the pads on your children. They do get pretty hot, not enough to cause burns but enough to be uncomfortable if you do not have a few layers of clothing in between. If you put it in the stroller, put it under the seat pad so it becomes comfortably warm.
Winter fashion goods
Japanese people are as style-conscious as Italians, and design should not just be functional, it should be fun as well. But while old standbys are kept on market as long as they sell, every year sees a flood of novelties combining high tech and high design. It can be anything from hot water shoes (to keep your feet warm in the same way as a diver does, bu without getting wet), and USB-enabled socks and mittens with built in heaters. To find the novelty goods, go to Tokyu Hands, a big department store that specializes in home goods and DIY supplies.
Did you like this post? I have written about the five seasons of Japan before, what to do on a rainy day in Tokyo, about seasonal activities you can do in Tokyo, and the Japanese travel year (very much weather related).
If you want to find out more about my upcoming books about traveling to Japan with children, go to the book
I am Wisterian Watertree, recently moved from Bangkok to Tokyo, with a brief visit to Honolulu on the way. I write about travel, especially with our three beautiful kids (two girls and one boy, soon turning six - yes. they are triplets). Travel is education and fun rolled into one, and if you are like me, that is something you want to give to your kids. If you want more tips and want to find out when I will publish something, get it from my email list. If you want to be personal, drop me a note on firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you want general tips, follow me on Twitter @wisterianw.