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...


  1. stay warm! My friend who's also on the JET program said that she was offered about $100 to furnish her room and asked whether she wanted a mattress or an air conditioner...not both. just one. Maybe you can layer on those unnaturally warm Amherst sweaters for heat!

  2. I used to open my Amherst dorm room windows to let heat out.