Japan Sapporo Mission Equipment
-by Jason Lowry
Congratulations on your new mission call. As a newly called missionary I wanted to make some recommendations about staying warm and dry while you are there. By now you might have heard a little about the island of Hokkaido, but unless you have lived in Alaska or the North Pole then you most likely won’t be perfectly prepared for the amount of rain and snow you will encounter.
I understand that recent mission-call packets include much more information about the specific mission than previously (at least in 1993). I haven’t seen the recent Japan Sapporo Mission packets, thus if there is anything on this page that is contrary to information in the packet, then the packet information takes precedence of course. This page is ONLY to be read as a supplement or suggestion document to consider when planning for Hokkiado mission life and is, in no way, responsible or blamed for any decisions or happenings.
Missionaries in Japan do not have the experience of driving automobiles; hence, the weather conditions are omnipresent.
In the following, I will make recommendations about the equipment you may want in Hokkaido. Because of budgetary restraints, I will generally make two suggestions; the first is the “if money is no problem” option. The second is a less expensive substitute. Please don’t feel pressured into purchasing any items that you can’t afford. You’re mission will be just as fulfilling with the substitute, and others will commend your frugality. I have mainly broken this down to two main sections: foot and body.
First thing to say about feet is “warm feet are happy feet”. For this reason, we’ll put the most important thing at the very top: Your mission packet might recommend you purchase Sorel brand winter boots. My tip: ONLY purchase Sorel winter boots. There is no good low price substitute. In the mission, it was no secret who did not have Sorels with their complaining or cursing their substitutes. Sorel is a fine Canadian-made boot that is very warm and durable. The Caribou was the most popular model.
A couple of tips: first, purchase your boots about a half to a full size large. You will want plenty of extra room for heavy socks. Second, Sorels have removable wool liners, and these can be purchased separately. I would recommend that you take two liners so that you can make sure one is always dry. There were a few missionaries who had snow gaiters for their boots. Gaiters go over the tops of your boots and shin to keep the snow from getting down in from the top. A luxury yes, but just one more thing to take off when going inside anywhere.
Your mission packet may recommend you bring 2 pairs of dress shoes. My tip: because of the amount of time you wear your boots, you probably won’t wear out both pairs of shoes. However, a good idea that seemed to be an unspoken rule of thumb is to bring one pair that you wear for tracking and bring another pair to keep looking nice for zone or mission conferences and church on Sundays. Because of the constant slipping shoes on and off everywhere you go (with or without an available shoe-horn by the door), it would be wise to buy at least one pair without laces for your “tracking ones”. You will also need one pair of P-Day shoes. Take something suitable for athletics and service projects.
My next suggestion is that you take rain boots, or purchase them when you are there. Hokkaido is known for the amount of snow it gets; however, in many of the coastal towns (Kushiro, Muroran, Hakodate, etc…) there are long rainy seasons. Also, there are some places (depending on the time of year) that get very cold, but don’t get the usual 4-8 feet of snow. You’ll soon get over the funny feeling of wearing your Sorels without snow on the ground, but because your feet would freeze otherwise, it’s not an option.
I have two suggestions for rain boots. First, if money is no option, think about taking a pair of Gortex-lined hiking boots. I recommend the Vasque Sundowner ($210) because they come in black, brown, or maroon with polishable leather. They will look so nice that no one will notice them under your suit pants. They are also a durable, well-made boot and can handle the wet weather. This type of boot is the one thing that I didn’t have that I wished I did have.
The second option is rubber rain boots (about $35). This second option actually has one major advantage over the Vasques—they come up higher on your leg and so your rain pants cover the top of them while you are riding your bicycle in the rain. I would recommend making sure you have enough room for socks, but not too big for wearing thin socks during the summer rainy season.
The third option is the thin, mid-high rubber booties (about $35) that go over your dress shoes. They are very thin, easy to slip on, and have a zipper up the side.
About purchasing footware in Japan: If you wear a size 10 or smaller, you will have a wide selection of footware (including rainboots etc) in Japan.
Warm socks are important. I would take some assortment that includes different weights for the different times of the year. My two suggestions: First, if you can afford them, the Thorlo brand socks are excellent for extreme cold weather that are second to none. They are generally $15-20 per pair. They are nice because they put extra warmth in the toes and extra thickness in the heel. Many missionaries wear holes in their heels, but I didn’t have this problem. Holes in socks are a big issue in Japan missions because you take off your shoes when you sit or kneel as you teach people the gospel. I am still using a couple of pairs of Thorlos that I took on my mission over 7 years ago. There are many other brands of wool/synthetic socks.
My other suggestion is that you may want to take some black cotton socks. I have found these at Foot Locker. They don’t look as nice as dress socks, but they are more comfortable, wear better, and let your feet breath. If you are prone to athlete’s foot, or other fungi, cotton socks will help. Japan’s humidity is a breading ground for fungus.
You should have a pair of sandals, slippers, or thongs to wear in the house. It is customary for Japanese people to take off their shoes just inside the front door and slip into slippers for inside the house. Missionary apartments are no exception. Most Japanese wear leather, cotton, or tatami slippers. Most missionaries from America either purchase a style of liking over there (for those with size 10 or smaller) or bring some from the States, like the rubber-style open-toed Nike slip-ons.
One other thing that you may want to bring is a couple of ankle straps for your pants. Suit pants and bicycles were never meant to go together. If you don’t use an ankle strap, then you will tear your pants in the front gears of your bike within the first two days. Velcro straps should be available in bike stores.
Body - Dressing for warmth
When dressing in Hokkaido - the best tip is to have layers. Layers offer warmth in the winter and versatility in the other seasons. My first tip: the mission packet that I received recommended that I bring an old school trench coat (i.e. London Fog). The problem is while trench coats look nice with suits, they are not equipped to handle the amount of rain or cold that you will experience. They are made more for men running between the limo and the bank. When I first arrived in Japan I wanted to look my best in my new suit and trench coat. After a few weeks of storms and riding my bike in the rain, I soon realized that it was more important to stay dry. Imagine your embarrassment of being invited inside and taking off your coat only to realize your suit and shirt are soaked through. Many missionaries send a box home within their first week of being in Japan full of all the stuff they realized they’ll never use. That London Fog trench coat is usually the first thing in that box.
When it rained, we generally wore full rain suits. If cost isn’t an issue, find a high-quality Gortex jacket and pants from a store like North Face or REI. A nice feature of choosing a Gortex jacket is that you can add a liner later and use it as your winter jacket. A durable, waterproof, nylon rain jacket is a nice substitute. It will keep the rain off but doesn’t breath so when it’s warm outside you will sweat a lot and be wet from the inside. For your legs, I would consider a pair of Gortex pants that you could use as rain pants or snow pants. Otherwise, be sure to purchase the rain suit as a matching set. Generally, you won’t wear snow pants like you would wear skiing. In fact, you never do, so don’t bring some. Rather, you wear thermals and your suit pants with boots when it’s snowing and suit pants with the rain pants over top when it’s raining.
If you go choose the Gortex shell for your raincoat, then you should pick up a warm liner for the wintertime. Down liners are lightweight and can stuff into a small size for traveling, they offer the best warmth, but can also be quite expensive. Good down liners are generally rated on their feather count. You should take a polar fleece jacket or vest as well. These are nice for the springtime - as well as for an extra layer in the winter. If you decide to take a rain suit, you should purchase a snow parka and a liner.
A slight diversion: I spent the winter of 1994 in the small town of Abashiri. It is on the top of the island, just right of the center of the island. Abashiri is famous for a couple of things. First - it was famous because it is the home of one of Japan’s first maximum-security prisons. Abashiri Kemsho (prison) is as famous to Japanese people as Alcatraz is to Americans. Second - Abashiri is home to the ice floats. The northern ice that covers the North Pole extends its reach in the winter down to the top of Hokkaido, and Abashiri bay freezes over. The ice floats are quite a site to behold. The point to that story is to show that it gets quite cold in Hokkaido. There will be weeks where the temperature stays below freezing.
Other necessities include gloves, hats, thermals and bags. Be sure to take a warm pair of gloves or mittens. Generally mittens are warmer. Like your body, layering is the key to warm hands. The most common solution to warm hands is to wear glove liners, wool or fleece gloves, and waterproof shells. This solution is warmer than regular ski gloves and probably less expensive when compared to one-piece gloves that offer the same warmth. They also offer flexibility to remove the wool when it’s not as cold. You should also strongly consider a pair of rain gloves. Rain gloves generally look like gardening gloves and should be big enough that you can wear your liners under them.
Take a wool or fleece hat and a gaiter or scarf for your neck. A good hat can really bottle your body heat in. You should choose a hat that fits to your head because it will need to fit into a bike helmet. Headbands are also popular with helmets. A gaiter or scarf can also increase your warmth because it prevents warmth from escaping through the neck of your coat. I strongly prefer the gaiter because it stays in place, unlike a scarf that bunches up. Also - you can pull the gaiter up to cover your face when it’s cold or snowing.
Your mission packet might recommend purchasing thermal garments. I would recommend against this. I would also recommend that you don’t wear thermal tops for a few reasons. First, when you are invited inside a warm house, you can remove your outer coat so you don’t get too hot. You can’t remove thermals. Second - it isn’t comfortable to wear many layers under your suit coat. Instead, add the removable layers like the down liner or polar fleece over your suit coat.
On your bottom half, thermals are essential. Thermals come in different warmth ratings. I would take the highest rated thermals possible for the wintertime. For the spring and fall, I would have some medium weight thermals. The old style white cotton thermals are fine, but there are much higher quality thermals available. High quality thermals will be lighter weight, pack smaller, dry quickly, and keep you dry and warm.
You should take a backpack or shoulder bag. Many people in my mission preferred daypacks like the ones made by Mountain Smith. You generally don’t need a huge pack. You just carry your scriptures, sometimes your lunch, and a copy of the Book of Mormon to give away. Generally, we had really small flip charts that we carried. I generally didn’t carry a quad, but just a small blue cheap copy of the Book of Mormon with the index removed. This was because anything in your bag could be very prone to water damage. They do make waterproof bags. If you can afford one, go for it! Otherwise - a low cost solution is that they sell reusable waterproof bags for camping. They look like big zip-lock bags, but they are more durable. Generally, we just wrapped up our new BofM’s in plastic bags from the grocery store.
Don’t carry an umbrella in your suitcase. You won’t be able to pack a large umbrella in your suitcase, and you won’t want a small travel umbrella for your entire mission. Just by a big one when you get there.
If you have an REI in your area, then I would recommend going there. They will have everything that you need, and the REI brand generally costs less, but is high quality and guaranteed. In my case, they also carry tall sizes.
A note for sisters: I have some thoughts for sisters who are going to Hokkaido - perhaps some former sisters could add some advice. It seems that they wore heavy denim or wool skirts with enough flair on the bottom to wear thermals, leg warmers and their sorrels underneath. Sisters wore sweaters to keep warm. I also seem to remember them wearing large rain ponchos that covered their skirts during the rain.