- Buyer's Guide
What to Pack for Winter in Tokyo
What to pack for winter in Tokyo? Well, if you ask for an opinion from ten different people, you’ll get ten different answers. Japanese winters can be very mild and sunny… but can also suddenly turn to extreme wind and freezing temperatures. Japan is an island nation subjected to certain weather variations. So your expectations when selecting your winter wear should be very flexible.
In Tokyo, people are definitely open-minded about fashion – but you’ll notice the whole city has extremely good taste, whether they’re in formal business attire or streetwear – and so a finely curated kit is essential.
The common principles that everybody seems to agree on are to have a good base layer, dress for mild temperatures, but also be ready for windchill days by keeping a warm layer (and possibly a rain shell) in your backpack. Following this system, I never go wrong. I’m always prepared for a rapid change in temperatures. Especially because, like most Tokyoites, I commute by bicycle and public transportation, which makes you subject to cold when outside and extra warm when taking the metro.
With this article, I want to share my updated layering system and EDC for winter in Tokyo 2020/21. Keep in mind that I’m a UX designer and photographer. I constantly have to meet people, including potential clients (less during this COVID emergency). So I need to maintain a style casual enough to adapt to more or less formal situations I deal with during the week.
The base layer – Son of a Tailor
I’m the type of person who likes to keep all his base layers consistent in color and fit. I used to buy t-shirts in bulk from Uniqlo (or Muji) and simply replace them whenever they wore out—which happened quite quickly. I have to admit I’ve never been very satisfied with this solution, especially for the fitting. The medium size was too short on the waist but the large size was too long on the sleeves. One day a close friend recommended I try custom-made t-shirts. A slightly larger investment but extending the use of a t-shirt to three times the Uniqlo one.
The merino t-shirt by Son of a Tailor is a great base layer. Merino wool keeps your body temperature toasty, dries up quickly when you sweat, and doesn’t stink (a win-win for everybody).
Because Son of a Tailor is a made-to-order clothing company, their shirts and t-shirts are custom-fitted to wear perfectly on your exact measurements. The website is intuitive and creating your tailored garment takes only five minutes. The fit is just right, which will make it difficult for me to go back to Uniqlo or Muji again.
The mid-layer – Alchemy Equipment Essential Lightweight Down Shacket
I knew Alchemy Equipment for their great backpacks, which I have used in the past. But I had never tried their clothing line before this year. Let me say I’m impressed. The quality of this little down shirt is incredible.
The 600-fill down keeps you nice and warm. Plus it’s stylish enough to be used as your only outer on a day with milder weather or during those sunny December afternoons when you might be commuting from a client’s office in Yoyogi to work in a cafe around Harajuku. The part I love most about this “shacket” (I suppose this is a portmanteau of “shirt + jacket”) is the pockets: the satisfying way they snap and seal with a magnetic buckle when I pull out my hands. The internal pocket is big enough to contain a pair of sunglasses and, for these times, a mask when it’s not in use.
The fit of this shacket is slim and the bottom is slightly longer, a detail I appreciate when commuting on my fixie.
The coat – Alchemy Equipment Performance Down Parka
When winter in Tokyo comes, your coat becomes your most important piece of gear. Because you rely so much on this single piece of clothing, finding the perfect jacket or the perfect parka can be an involved process. You want a coat that keeps you warm but also looks great.
I’m an outdoorsman and a climber, and so far I’ve been merging my outdoor gear with my everyday casual gear with a few exceptions. One such exception is the wool peacoat I’ve been using for more formal situations where my Arc’teryx down jacket would look too “sporty”. This method has a few flaws because it forces me to take extra care of the jacket whenever I’m up in the mountains. The peacoat is very formal and doesn’t look good with more casual outfits and with sneakers.
With the Alchemy Equipment Performance Down Parka, I’ve found my winter holy grail.
Stylish, performant, waterproof, warm, adaptable to virtually any style. I can use it when dressing smart-casual to meet a client, on top of a suit jacket, or with my everyday techwear-style clothing with sneakers. The details, the design of the pockets and the hood, and the fitting of this coat are simply perfect.
The laminated waterproof fabric paired with 500-fill grey duck down does a great job keeping you warm without sacrificing breathability.
The shape of the hood fits just right, not too roomy but neither tight, with a high neck that can cover up to your chin for those extra-cold windy days.
When I pair this jacket with the Down Shacket I feel like I’m wearing “winter armor”. I’m equipped for the coldest and windiest days that winter in Tokyo had during this 2020-21 season.
The pockets are also very well thought through. They easily hold my gloved hands, plus a smartphone and several other things as you’d expect from a parka. I particularly appreciate the fact that when I put stuff in the outer pockets, the coat doesn’t seem to lose its original pocket shape. Something that happens a lot with other jackets I’ve tried, which results in me always leaving those pockets empty.
The length of the coat is just right for me. I’m 5’7″ (175cm) and the small size is perfect. I can ride my bicycle without being afraid of dirtying the tail of my coat on the rear wheel.
This parka made me aware of the kind of craftsmanship Alchemy Equipment puts into its garments and makes me want to get more of their wear.
I’ve been a fan of Nike techwear lines since Errolson Hugh designed ACG collections. That stylish and glorious ACG line has become iconic and somehow unattainable (unless you are ready to make some heavy bids on StockX…). Even though nowadays those ACG standards are just a remembrance, Nike still produces a line of garments, called Nike Tech, which carry a similar concept. More sporty and mainstream compared to ACG but still constructed with great materials and neat design.
Nike Tech Woven Pants are my favorite piece of gear for Tokyo’s cold windy days. They are very robust and keep your legs protected from the weather. The style of those pants is straightforward and the design is very versatile; you can easily pair them with both sneakers and boots.
I’ve known of Denmark’s leather goods maker ECCO for a while, following them on Instagram right after their debut on the Dyneema Project page. It’s no secret that I love Dyneema fabric. Having a pair of Woven Dyneema and Leather boots seemed like a dream. The design of their Exostrike boots looked like a cross-over between Supra sneakers and my handmade Italian boots. I fell in love at first sight. Unfortunately, I wasn’t lucky enough to score the Dyneema version (rare in Japan). So I eventually got the GTX one, which has exactly the same design except for an internal white liner. These boots solved my problems with cold feet—something I experience a lot with sneakers. Plus they are extremely comfortable and you can wear them with techwear pants or snug denim jeans.
For the warmer days—when I need an alternative to my ECCO boots but still want to maintain a certain degree of protection and waterproofing for my feet—I use Nike ACG “Mountain Fly” sneakers or, alternatively, the Adidas Terrex GTX sneakers. Both of these shoes are designed with the outdoors in mind. They have a membrane that protects your feet from wind and water, and they look sharp! The Adidas Terrex is made for trail running, where the toe box needs to be protected when traversing rocky-technical terrain. My pair comes from a collaboration with the Japanese brand White Mountaineering, which blends performance outdoor gear with the fashion world’s aesthetic needs.
The “Mountain Fly” is one of the latest design projects from ACG (which is one of my favorite brands). These shoes suit outdoor trails thanks to their “sticky rubber” material taken directly from approach shoes. They’re extremely comfortable and perfect for the city as well.
Caps and gloves
Caps and gloves are essential for my daily commute by bicycle during winter in Tokyo. Too many times I have found myself with numb fingers after an early morning ride to the station. The OR liner gloves (the same gloves I actually also use as liners when I do ice climbing!) and a Patagonia beanie are the perfect companions for these mornings (and evenings).
My Patagonia beanie uses a mix of recycled wool and recycled nylon. With a classic design and absolute warmth, it’s my usual winter hat in the mountains and in the city.
The Arc’teryc Arro is my EDC since early 2020. I was in the middle of reviewing several 25-30L packs when I realized that 70% of my days I don’t need all that capacity.
So I searched for a backpack that would work well carrying just a laptop, iPad, and sometimes a shell jacket. My nonnegotiable requirements were: waterproof capabilities, weight, and, of course, it had to look good.
The original model (pre-2019) was supposed to be a small hiking backpack with an internal hydration bladder holder. The new model, externally the same, has a proper laptop sleeve—which I suppose solves the main problem for users of the previous version.
The Arc’teryx Arro 22 is/has been, so far, one of the most popular backpacks in Tokyo. For a certain period of time, I spotted the Arro 22 literally everywhere. On the backs of university students, as well as more formally dressed salarymen and businesswomen.
Despite my love for this pack, it has a few design flaws (which I won’t describe in detail here). But it does a great job in keeping my laptop and gear safe and dry in any conditions.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, “if you ask ten different people, you’ll get ten different opinions” about the clothing system for winter in Tokyo. Many folks living in this city tend to get carried away by fashion trends, which sometimes can be less practical than what I’ve recommended here. You’ll see people wearing polar expedition-grade parkas by The North Face even when it’s sunny and warm outside. Or you might encounter a stoic rocker sporting their vintage leather jacket even on a windy -3°C morning. As a European living in Japan, I always try comparing the temperature of Tokyo with a Rome winter, for instance. And I try dressing in a way that makes sense for a specific temperature more than dressing for the entire season with the same items.
This article was written by Riccardo Parenti, Italian-born photographer and product designer living in Tokyo. You can check out his work here.
Photography by Simone Ozaki.