It snowed a little around noon today. It didn’t last long but it created a bit of excitement for a few minutes. With the exception of the occasional really warm day like yesterday, the daytime temperature has probably averaged around 6C lately. It’s a much damper cold than we’re used to back home in Alberta, but it’s definitely warm in comparison. I walked home from work this evening with nothing on my head and I haven’t needed more than my little knit gloves to keep my hands warm all winter.
Staying warm indoors is where the real challenge lies. Like most Japanese buildings, ours has no insulation and no central heating. Considering how concerned the Japanese people are about global warming, it surprises us that even most newer buildings are not insulated.
We have three main sources of heat. A built in unit in one corner of the kotatsu room functions as an air conditioner in the summer and a heater during winter. It provides enough heat to keep about half of that room at a comfortable temperature. An oscillating electric heater in the corner of the tatami room does a pretty good job of keeping that room warm when we’re in it. By far the best source of heat, however, is the portable kerosene heater which we keep in the corner of the kitchen by the doorway to the kotatsu room so that we can turn it toward whichever room we’re using at the time. Unfortunately, it isn’t thermostatically controlled so we have to turn it off when the room starts to get too warm and the temperature starts dropping almost immediately. As a result, it’s impossible to keep the apartment at a steady comfortable temperature.
We’ve heard of a number of foreigers who are afraid to use their kerosene heaters but we use ours all the time. We run the kitchen fan for a short while when we first turn the heater on and again when we turn it off. The rest of the time, there’s no smell of kerosene at all. We keep a 10 litre jerry can of fuel out on the deck and Richard takes the removable fuel tank out there to refill it. Every Thursday and Friday morning, the kerosene truck makes it’s way up and down the streets of our neighbourhood. We always know when it’s coming as it plays a distinctive tune that can be heard well before it gets here. Right now, we’re going through a can of fuel a week. Lately, the price has been under 70 yen/litre but it has been as high as 110. (We used to think 100 yen to a Canadian dollar but at the moment, it’s more like 72 yen/dollar.) Apparently kerosene is a little bit cheaper at the gas stations but since we don’t have a vehicle and there isn’t a station close by, we’re happy to pay a little bit extra for the convenience of home delivery.
We have two other sources of heat. The first, which is uniquely Japanese, is the kotatsu, the low table where we eat all our meals. It’s frame is covered by a quilted futon upon which the table top sits. A heating coil is built into the table frame itself and keeps our legs comfortably warm while dining.
When winter came, the school provided us with electric blankets. They enable us to stay warm and cozy all night without running any heaters. By morning, the temperature in the apartment is often around 10C so as long as one of us, usually Richard, crawls out about an hour before we actually have to get up and turns the heaters back on, we’re okay. We turn them off again when we leave for work. By the time we get home, it’s once again somewhere around 10C in here. I refuse to take my coat off until it has warmed up to 15C so I often start cooking dinner with my jacket still on! My students tell me that February 3 is considered the end of winter and beginning of spring, however, so in spite of today’s snow, we should begin to see warmer conditions soon.