If Tokyo is about the Happiest Place On Earth, and Osaka is home to the Wizarding School of Hogwarts, Sapporo is the best place in Japan to experience what a Winter Wonderland is all about.
I must admit Christmas came two weeks early last year when I received the invitation to join a FAM Tour organized by the Sapporo Tourism Board.
The schedule was a bit tricky because it overlapped with the HongKong anniversary trip I had planned for my parents, but it was one of those opportunities I couldn’t miss, so thankfully the organizers were able to help me work things out.
During our pre departure orientation, we were told that the temperatures in Sapporo could range from 5 degrees to minus 14 degrees, and though I had a few jackets ready, I honestly had no idea how cold it was going to feel like.
To give us an idea of what to expect, they gave us a little bit of background about Sapporo. It is the northern-most city designated by government ordinance and has the 5th largest population in Japan.(which you can read more about in our Sapporo 101 primer)
The Annual Average Temperature ranges from 8.9℃/48.02°F; Summer Average Temperatureis about 26.4℃/79.52°F and in Winter the Average Temperature was -7.0℃/19.4°F. Snow covers the ground 132.4 days a year and the first snowfall happens in October and by December the city is covered in snow. There is much snowfall with the average annual snow accumulation at 600cm but they have such efficient measures for snow removal in place it has minimum effect on daily life—which is actually rare by world standards that over 1.9 million people reside in an area prone to that much snowfall.
I know its not a good thing, but every time I travel, I try not to research too much, and just mark the places I have to visit, because nothing compares to the feeling of seeing, feeling, smelling a new place for the first time.
Ah SNOW, the one thing that’s probably on every Pinoy’s bucket list. I’m sure you’ve asked someone going to the US or somewhere cold to bring you back some snow–not the shaved variety you put on the halo-halo or the ice you scrape off the freezer I’m talking about 100 Legit Snow that falls from the sky, which is impossible, but you ask anyway.
I got my Japanese Visa barely a week before our flight, and suddenly all my excitement was replaced by panic as I realized I had absolutely no idea what to bring and how to prepare for the trip (having a flu was certainly wasn’t helping).
Remember travelling to Japan is one thing. Travelling to Japan in the wintertime requires a totally different preparation.
SHOULD YOU SHOP HERE OR THERE?
Obviously, the first thing you have to do is to buy some winter clothes. But should you buy here or just shop for your winter wardrobe once you get to Sapporo? The answer is a bit of both. What I would suggest is you buy just a few items here, maybe for a day or two and just shop for the rest when you arrive.
The reason depends on how much time you have before your trip. If you already have tickets for next year I suggest you visit Uniqlo, H&M, Terranova and the other stores which have those winter clothes. You can get real good deals if you buy during their end of season sale as they probably will be getting rid of their winter collection.
What you need to buy first is a couple of thermal undergarments. Uniqlo’s HeatTech line is perfect, but it can be a bit pricey at P990. I suggest you get a couple of longsleeved shirts and pants. Wear the undershirt once you arrive in Tokyo or before you land in Sapporo so you wont be shocked by the sudden drop in temperature.
Now if you are on a budget you can get a cheaper set of thermal wear at the department store. I got a Baleno set and Monsieur set for the price of one HeatTech shirt. Baleno is a bit cheaper and easier to find at SM but I prefer the Monsieur brand because it is warmer without making you sweaty and clammy. And that is the feeling you have to avoid because it will make you feel colder. If this is your first time to buy thermal wear get the size that clings to your skin and isn’t loose.
For jackets, make sure you have at least one fleece jacket and a weatherproof/windproof one in case of snowfall (remember that snow is still water so when it melts you’ll get wet). I also realized that you need to buy a larger jacket since you will be layering clothes (more of that in a bit) and a very fitted one will make it hard for you to move around (which is quite important to maintain your balance).
Other winter essentials are a neckwarmer, long thick socks, a beanie hat, or trapper hat (to protect your ear as well) and a couple of pairs of gloves.
Why two pairs of gloves at least? Because if you want to play or touch the snow, your gloves are going to get wet and soggy gloves will make your hands feel even colder. Also, make sure to test these gloves on your mobile phone, which I am sure you are going to take out to take photos. Turn on gloves mode on your phone and try it out first and make sure it isn’t slippery. I bought my gloves at Daiso Japan for just P88 a pair and they were pretty comfortable.
Now, you are probably thinking, why not get all of these from an ukay-ukay store-which was also my first thought. Sadly, I went to several other stores and couldn’t find nice ones. I even went to Bambang thinking I could find those wool jackets, but there weren’t any. There are however a few shops at Divisoria 999 and 168 where you can find jackets (500-1500 and 2000 for the weatherproof ones) fleece/wool gloves at P150 and neckwarmers also at P150. There is also a store that sells winter jackets in Greenhills, but if you are a bit on the plus size, it might be a bit hard to find something that will allow you to wear a few layers and still fit comfortably.
One of my companions Mae Ilagan, from WheninManila.com, says she was able to find some nice winter clothes from the Ukay shops in Baguio, so if you are going there, might as well check it out.
Lastly, and one of the most important things to bring is a pair of waterproof boots/shoes. Rubber shoes/ sneakers could work just as long as the sole has a nice grip, but if you are planning to play in the snow (which I suggest you do) invest on a good pair of snow boots or high cut shoes at least. I saw one of my companions were wearing Dr. Martens throughout the trip, another was wearing something from Palladium but all of us were wearing high cut ones. The reason is to prevent snow from entering your shoes, because when it does, it will surely melt and wet feet will make you feel really cold.
Here is the part where I suggest that you bring one of your rubber shoes, and just buy a good pair of snowboots or shoes once you get to Sapporo. I bought mine in an Ukay store at Tayuman for P1,000 but it was more of a hiking boot and though it lasted throughout our entire trip, the sole fell out while I was on the plane back to Manila 😀
A good place to hunt for bargain shoes is Don Quixote which is a 24-hour mall where you can find just about anything. (I’ll be doing a separate feature on it soon) There are a lot of real snow boots on sale which you can buy for just a couple of thousand pesos as compared to the P5k plus you will find here.
This is also the reason why I suggest you buy the rest of your winter gear when you arrive at Sapporo. There’s a good chances that you will be arriving early evening because there is no direct flight from the Philippines. We got there at around 7pm and you can just head over to Don Quixote to shop for the rest of things you need. Winter Jackets sell for less than a P1,000, and they have all the things you will need and they have a lot of choices and sizes—plus you’ll be able to try it out in a real winter temperature!
The moment I walked out of the airport and felt the cold kiss from the Sapporo air, it was like a hundred airconditioners were directed at me at full blast. It was minus 7 degrees in the evening and seeing the mist linger whenever I talked was almost magical. It was a good thing I was already wearing a few layers of clothes otherwise I’d probably feel almost numb all over almost immediately.
The key to cold weather dressing is layering. It’s best to dress in layers to insulate yourself from cold temperatures.
Layering basically means just what it sounds like: wearing multiple layers of garments, one on top of the next. But layering regular street clothing on top of one another to keep you warm in sub-zero temperatures will leave you so bulky and restrict your movement.
Dressing in layers also helps to manage the variance with weather conditions. Several lighter layers will keep you warmer than one very thick one–air is trapped between each layer and warmed by your body, surrounding you with a self-generated heat shield that insulates you from the cold.
When it’s cold you will get a better result with more thin layers as opposed to a few heavy and thick clothing items. You can’t just wear four layers of fleece jackets because it will just make you look like a sweaty stuffed animal.
I also noticed that as it gets colder outside, the warmer it becomes inside as the stores probably turn up the heat more.
For the Insulating layer, the ideal is a polyester shirt, or fleece jacket makes a good insulating mid-layer since it retains heat when wet and breathes as you move.
Then for the outer layer ideally wear a waterproof, breathable shell jacket and pants keep you dry and fend off wind.
As for me I wore a longsleeved shirt/polo shirt as my second layer and then topped it off with a fleece or bubble jacket. I didn’t have any waterproof pants but denim jeans work as well as long as you are not going to be skiing or doing some other snow sport.
The best thing to remember about layering your clothing is to be able to easily add or remove it to adjust to your activity level and the weather.
Finally, make sure you have a hat or neckwarmer to protect your head and face from the wind, wear gloves whenever you are outside to keep your hands warm and make sure to brush off any snow on your clothing before it melts otherwise you will get wet. You might also want to bring goggles to protect your eyes if you plan on staying outside for quite a while.
The good thing about going around Sapporo is that it has a very good network of underground walkways to take you from one place to another as well as great train system so you don’t have to always walk outside and endure the cold.
That’s it for the first part of our guide on how I prepared for my first winter trip… Check out part two HERE for the Apps you have to download, the sites you have to visit and how to protect your gadgets from the freezing weather!
Here are more photos from my Sapporo Trip and please do hit the like button on my Facebook page!