Saturday, January 22, 2005

It's Fricking Cold here!

OK - I’ve been meaning to post about something other than just trivia, but you need to understand how cold it’s been and how that affects my living conditions at home. I’m actually typing this in the relative warmth of my Jr. High school staff room, as I take my laptop to school some days to give me something to do when I’m not studying Japanese or teaching classes.

So it’s COLD here in Taisha. Now I know that some of you who are living or have lived in cold weather climates are probably muttering “wimp” as you read this, but for this Southern California boy - it’s DAMN COLD!

I’ve never really lived in snow before - it never got too cold or ever snowed in San Diego or the Bay Area. We got the occasional bit of snow in Dallas when I lived there, but it was usually just slush and ice. So all this is new to me.

And I've discussed why it seems so cold here with my fellow JETs, and we all agree it has to do mostly with one important fact - there is NO insulation in Japanese homes. So this means it is often only a couple of degrees warmer in my apaato than it is outside. Furthermore, this means no matter what steps I take to heat my little place, the heat quickly dissipates and it starts to get cold again. So I find myself constantly battling the cold - struggling to stay warm without simply running my in-house heater 24/7, since it’s extremely expensive.

The first adjustment I had to make when I arrived and wanted to look up the weather was that Japanese is totally on the metric system, so they use the Celsius temperature scale. John Rousseau, a family friend, gave me an easy way to convert from degrees C to degrees F - you take the number in °C and double it. Then you subtract 10%. Then you add 32. It gets you pretty close every time. So if it’s 10°C, you double that to 20, then subtract 2 to get 18 and then add 32 to get 50°F.
So the other night I came home after school and kendo practice and the thermometer in my bedroom said it was 8°C in my apaato. (Did you do the math? That’s about 46°F)
Now I’m not sure what temperature my refrigerator is set at, but it can’t be too much colder than that since freezing is 0°C. So basically my house is a big refrigerator when I’m not there.

It’s a weird sensation to walk into a building and it not be any warmer than it is outside. This applies to my school as well. They don’t heat the whole building at my schools. They heat individual classrooms with these big, kerosene heaters that give off a faint smell. So if I have to teach in the language lab and we’re the first class in there that day, it’s cold as hell and all the students try to huddle around the heater for warmth, cuz it takes a while before the room heats up . I walk out into the halls in my Jr. High and I can see my breath - it’s that cold. I feel most sorry for the female students who have to wear their school uniform skirts even in this weather - they must be freezing at times. But they walk to school like that with no sweat pants on under their skirts or any added protection save for the occasional scarf or cardigan sweater over their “sailor” tops. Crazy!

So I have to alternate ways of keeping warm when I’m at home. I bought myself a “heat fan” for about 3000¥ at a used store. It looks like a regular fan and it oscillates, but instead of blowing air, it glows orange and emits heat. Great thing about it is that it has a timer so I can set it to turn itself off in 30 minutes; so I keep it by my bed at night and fall asleep with it on.
The other nifty item I own is a kotatsu, a traditional, quilt-covered heating table. Basically, I sit on the floor of my living room and stick my legs under my coffee table. I put a blanket over the top, but under the table top, and then switch it on. It has a small heating fan underneath and it manages to keep you toasty warm. Many Japanese families gather together in the evenings and all get under a kotatsu to keep warm together. It works surprisingly well, and with my heat fan nearby as well and a blanket, I keep pretty warm. Only problem is you don’t want to get up or move, cuz the rest of your house is freezing. So I do use my built-in heaters sparingly to bring the temperature up to a reasonable level. My normal electricity bill is about 6000¥ ($60), but I just paid one for Dec. 7th - Jan. 7th and it was 12,000¥ ($120), and that’s entirely due to me running my built-in heaters. I have two, one in the ceiling in my living room and one in my bedroom on the wall, which means I’m pretty lucky as many JETs I speak to only have one in their place.

I can shut doors in my apaato and keep it reasonably warm in one room at a time. Makes trips out into the hall to use the bathroom an Arctic adventure, and don’t get me started on how cold the toilet seat is sometimes - at least guys can go standing up most of the time.
So staying in is OK - I can manage to be warm. Venturing out is now much more difficult as I only have my gentsuki (scooter) to get around on. I need to get a face shield for my helmet, cuz the other day I had to scooter to school and it was snowing and the snowflakes kept hitting my unprotected eyeballs, so I had to go slow cuz I kept shutting my eyes to melt the snow. So for now I wear my sunglasses if it’s snowing, but that looks really silly and doesn’t help if it’s snowing at night. Today was the first time I was riding my scooter and I almost lost control due to icy roads. I’m gonna have to be careful, and I might have to even walk to work if it gets really bad one day.

Today the low was forecast to be 1°C and the high was 4°C. Can’t wait to get home and get under my kotatsu.


Click Here for the local weather in Matsue, the biggest city in and the capital of Shimane - about an hour north-east of here by car.

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