"I don't mind when it's cold out..."
The winter months get pretty chilly here in Matsumoto. And I'm talking about inside the house. Japan's aversion to breaking with tradition includes technological advances like home heating, and when the cold comes the community gathers at the gas station, lining up and waiting our turn to fill up our standard red-orange state-approved plastic cans with kerosene for the heaters in our living rooms. We keep warm this way, until it's time to take a bath in a bathroom that is not heated. Getting into the hot bath is heaven. Getting out is hell. Before we go to bed we turn off the heater. In the morning the air inside our homes, which are built without another recent invention callled insulation, is colder than the air inside our refrigerators. No joke. My heater has a digital display of the room's temperature. On most mornings in January and February it read 6 Celsius.
That's 43 Fahrenheit for you Americans. Yeah, you guys, the ones burning the heating oil non-stop. Wussies.
We don't heat our water either, not unless we're about to take a shower or a bath. And while my fingers go numb from the cold water I'm using to do the dishes, to me it's sensible and, dare I say, right. In our last home, in the States, we shut off the boiler when we weren't heating the house or the water. The thermostats and the water temperature dials only went so low, so after a while, even if we weren't bathing anytime soon, or we were going out for the day, the boiler would fire itself up, burning more heating oil for no practical reason. Before we moved out the oil heat people came out to check on the boiler, the standard maintenance check before the changing of the tenants. I told him that we regularly shut the boiler off completely, using the easily-accessible switch that was ostensibly accessible for emergencies only. "There's no problem turning the boiler on and off with this switch, is there?" I asked. After his incredulity faded enough to where he could speak he told me he didn't think so but in all his years as a boiler guy he'd never heard of anyone doing such a thing. Neither had my landlady, who was visibly concerned for no other reason that she couldn't understand why we'd bother.
There's an economy in the way Japanese people live. It's evident in the habits that persist. The house we live in now has double sets of windows throughout. Not just double-paned glass, but two sets of windows. I couldn't understand the logic when we moved in last August. Now I get the drift - and no draft, ha ha. But the walls are thin, like pre-fabricated partitions. The metal front door sports a permanent film of condensation on the inside. There's no dehumidifying system to speak of in the bathroom, so we have to open the windows, even in the dead of winter, to keep the walls and the fixtures and everything else from becoming coated with leftover moisture.
I wear two pairs of socks these days, along with thick slippers, to keep the cold floor from eating right through my feet. I take the clothes I'm wearing the next day to bed with me, tucking them down at my feet or along the edge of my four thick futon blankets. If I don't they'll be freezing in the morning when I drag myself downstairs to fire up the kerosene heater again.
We keep the sliding doors to the TV room closed, to maximize the heater's efficiency as it hums and breathes away to keep our living room/kitchen space at a reasonable temperature. the good thing about this is it keeps the kids' television time to a minimum. The bad thing is, it takes away a major strategy of mine for keeping the kids entertained in a different room from the oone I am trying to enjoy. The solution involves a brilliant if not cramped invention called a kotatsu, essentially a coffee table with a heater mounted underneath and a removable top for installing the big blankets that hang down and trail out along the floor, enough to cover everyone's legs and still keep all the heat from escaping from under the kotatsu. With too many people, everyone is relegated to keeping only the bottom halves of their bodies warm. If there are only a couple people using the kotatsu, or if the three or four people using it are small like my kids, there's room enough for everyone to disappear up to their necks under those blankets. I feel fortunate in that my kids are fine with this set up for the times I let them watch TV - and also for the fact that I don't ever watch TV. I'll hang out by myself, next to this kerosene heater, thanks.
I've always said that I don't mind when it's cold outside, I just hate it when it's cold inside. Since moving to Japan I've had to change my tune. But I appreciate the mindset. I like the conservative customs. It's just sometimes I wish I lived in Okinawa