Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Japan in the winter

It's nice to be back in Tokyo again for a few days, even if cold weather and I have never really been good friends. I dislike winter, even if Tokyo winters are relatively mild and full of fine days -- unlike winters n Europe which are accompanied by grey skies and the kind of damp chill that goes straight to your bones.

In fact, Europeans who visit Tokyo during the winter just can't get over the great weather over here vis-a-vis where they've come from, and it's not unusual to see them walking around in the dead of winter here with only a light sweater and scarf because this isn't really cold, as far as they're concerned.

But in my books, this is certainly chilly. And exactly right now we're approaching what the Japanese call "daikan" or the coldest time of the year, which is at the beginning of February.


Still, there are some great things about coming to Japan in the winter, aside from the fact that the percentage of encountering snow is pretty high. Last night, for example, what started out as a drizzle quickly turned into a pretty massive snow storm for a few hours; and overnight the city was blanketed in white, although it quickly disappeared today as temperatures rose.

The food in the winter is also delicious, and this is just about one of the top reasons why foodies should consider Japan in January or February. Foremost on every foodie's list are the seasonal specialties like fugu (blowfish) and winter crab, as well as lots of seafood that only make their appearance at around this time.

But the Japanese really love to eat fugu in a stew over winter, and for many, it's a New Year's tradition and something to chase away the winter blues. If you've been reading this blog, you'll know that eating fugu is considered a rather dangerous and exciting thing to do as it can be a highly poisonous fish if not cleaned and cut properly, and several people do die eating fugu every year.

But in reality, most people who die by eating fugu usually do so because they've cleaned and cut it themselves, or else a friend or a relative has. It's illegal to serve fugu at an establishment to clients if you don't have a proper fugu license, so fugu is pretty expensive at legit places and some people do end up eating fugu the cheaper, private way and paying a much higher price in the end.


Winter is also the best time to see Mount Fuji in all its glory because there are more clear days in the cold. Lots of people visit Japan and take a tour of Mount Fuji in the spring or summer, but they're disappointed with Mount Fuji doing a disappearing act because the likelihood of a hazy day is very high in spring or summer.

In fact, I have a couple of friends who've come to stay over at my home in Mount Fuji no less than four times, and they haven't been rewarded with a view of Japan's most picturesque mountain yet.

In the winter, you're likely to get to see Mount Fuji but you'll have to put up with the pain of getting the snow chains on -- where my house is, those new all-weather tires just don't work as snow can get thigh-high -- and with -18 degree temperatures and clearing the snow out of the driveway; but you're rewarded with a picture-perfect winter wonderland as far as the eye can see and a most beautiful, unencumbered view of Mount Fuji. And fortunately, the caretaker down the road has a snow plow that makes clearing the snow a breeze.

So, yes, Japan is great even in the winter. Just another cold evening in a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.

* * *

To commemorate the resilience of the Japanese people
one year after the Great Earthquake,
and to celebrate the beauty of Japanese culture.





  1. The last time I was in Japan was in Osaka and it was nearing wintertime so this post reminds me of that romanticism towards a Geisha and the most loved culture I have seen. Japan is one great country that I had been to which demonstrates loyalty to tradition, in food and in all aspects, be it in writing, language, craft and clothing.

    thanks for this great post and one that makes me relive the brief time I was there too.

    Dr. Wends of www.journeysandtravels.com

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your memories about Japan, and best wishes from all of us at Travelife Magazine.