Sunday, 16 January 2011

cold cold cold

Memories of warmer times: The Kumano pilgrimage road in early Autumn.
Today I will use this blog as a forum to practice one of the most important staples of social interaction here in Japan (or anywhere, for that matter): Complaining about the weather. From the from the atsui, na? ("hot, isn't it?") of summer to the samui, na? ("cold, isn't it?") of winter, at least half of all polite conversation here in Arida begins with some sort of sympathetic bemoaning of the sadistic weather gods.  While the temperature here in Wakayama rarely dips beneath freezing, several factors contribute to making winters here frigid and miserable.

1)For some unfathomable reason, few Japanese apartments have decent insulation, so any heat built within a living room soon dissipates. A friend from Hawai'i recently discovered the source of a persistent draft in her apartment: After checking every conceivable window and door opening, she was shocked to feel a faint but unmistakable winter breeze coming though her wall.  

2) Neither home nor school has central heating. Presumably this stems from a desire to conserve resources on a crowded archipelago, a worthy goal, I must admit. It also has the side benefit of building a certain camaraderie in suffering, in those millions of cups of hot tea, coffee, and cocoa offered in solidarity to shivering coworkers.

3) The wind. Arida, like many Japanese towns, lies on the Pacific Ocean. Cold landward winds buffet the town at all hours, at times so strong that peddling at anything less than full force will only keep one's bike in place, leaving rider with a comical and confused look of exertion on his face.

In response to this state of affairs, there are two schools of thought. The first, advocated by my neighbor T, entails puttering around one's apartment in full winter wear, warmed only by the thought of yen accumulating in his bank account, unmolested by seasonal heating bills. The second entails sitting beneath air conditioner or kotatsu, worshipping these sources of electronic warmth with monthly offerings of hard-earned cash. (A kotatsu, by the way, is a low table equipped with a small heat lamp and and bedecked with an oversized blanket - the traditional Japanese solution to blustery winter days.) I've attempted to split the difference between the two, bundling up in sweatshirts and setting the AC to the lowest warm setting possible for minutes at a time.

Behind my shattering teeth, I comfort myself with the thought that my shivering somehow brings me closer to nature, that there is perhaps something unnatural about the excessive warmth of my Amherst College dorms in the depths of winter (which led many student to open windows to let heat out). Bears hibernate, amphibians even freeze through - winter is a time to conserve motion and heat. Perhaps one should shiver a bit in winter in humble acknowledgment of elemental forces greater than ourselves. With that in mind, I now click off my AC and put another cup of water on for tea...

Monday, 10 January 2011

Happy belated new year, folks

Happy new year from Riblet, the handsomest dog in the world. 

8000 miles and 26 hours later, I'm back in Arida after and all-too-brief jaunt back to the US of A. Naturally, the jet-lag has left me too discombobulated to even think about writing a full post right now, so I'll let the pictures do most of the talking.

Krispy Kreme invades Osaka, takes no prisoners.  

 Disembodied sushi hand (also Osaka, of course.)

Unfortunately, I neglected to take pictures for almost the entirety of my two-week stay in the States. I was inspired, however, to finally take my camera out of its case at the Sackler Gallery (which, along with the Freer next door, is one of the best, most underrated museums in DC).  The last paragraph is in the picture below is a quote from the 10th-century Persian epic Shahnama, several centuries-old editions of which were on exhibit at the gallery. These words seem as auspicious as any to contemplate at the beginning of the new year:  

For those who have a tough time reading the small, yellow print: 

"There is nothing in the world so terrible and fearful as the fact that one comes like the wind and departs as a breath... Whether you are a king or a pauper you will discover no rhyme or reason to it. But one must act well, with valor and chivalry, and one must eat well and rejoice: I see no other fate for you, whether you are a subject or a prince." 

May the year be one of good eating and rejoicing for us all.