Fun things you never realize about the cold until you live in Japan

The temperature has been vacillating between freezing and ten degrees celcius for the last couple of days, with the nights and mornings particularly chilly.  On Tuesday I actually had a pretty healthy coating of ice on my windshield, which was not much fun to deal with when I was already running late for work.  As you may remember from one of my previous posts, Japan (exempting Hokkaido where it gets so cold they have no choice) doesn’t have insulation or central heating.  Thus, even in a more temperate climate like Kyushu and my island of Iki, it can feel just as cold as slogging through three feet of snow.

From this new experience of mine, I have realized several things:

  1. Showers = not fun.  Aside from that whole no insulation/no heating business, my shower actually has a window and fan permanently open to the outside.  This means that when it’s snowing outside, that cold air is blowing into my shower no matter what I do.  I have made three solutions for this, a) I turn the water on (very hot) for about five or six minutes before getting in the shower.  The steam makes the room much hotter, b) I always have at least one shower at the onsen–hot springs–which is nice and toasty, and c) I only take two showers a week.  Some might consider this gross, but I’m a pretty clean person so it turns out okay.  (Most Japanese people, by the way, take baths during the winter.  I would love to do this, except wait… the drain in my bath has mukade pop out of it sometimes.  No thanks!)
  2. Washing one’s hands = uncomfortable.  Most faucets in Japan don’t have hot water–for my shower and washing my dishes, I have two “area” water heaters similar to space heaters except for water.  As such, when you wash your hands after the restroom, you’re washing it in cold water.  Cold water + cold air = FREEZING COLD fingers.  I have taken to drinking less water at school in order to use the restroom less so that I don’t have to wash my hands as much. 
  3. Floors = flippin cold.  Carpets don’t really exist in Japan, either.  I have three tatami rooms in my house, and though tatami is warmer than tile, whatever the floor is in my kitchen, and wood, it still is chilly.  I only take my socks off to change them.  I also wear my warm, wonderful crocs whenever I’m not underneath my kotatsu or my blankets.
  4. Japanese people can be exceedingly illogical.  Imagine this: it’s snowing outside.  You’re teaching in a school without area heaters or central heating (except in the staff room, thank God).  You have maybe fifteen people in a normal-sized classroom.   The Windows Are Open.  I cannot believe this.  I asked one of my teachers why.  “Oh, to get air circulating,” she responds.  Sure, yes, it’s influenza season and people are dropping like flies.  Great way to solve it by making it even COLDER and therefore making it more difficult for your immune system to fight back.  Genius Japan.  Seriously.
  5. Japanese people can be exceedingly logical.  Picture this: A space heater, surrounded by a table and blanket.  All your lower body needs to keep warm.  At least they can create something to battle the cold when at home, and that something is the kotatsu.  I love it like I love chocolate milk.  I take naps under it.  I wish it was bigger.  I’m planning on buying one in America and doing everything on the floor from now on because they’re just so damned cozy.
  6. Toilet seats can get VERY cold.  Seriously.  My predecessor, Shannon, was smart enough to get a little rug-like-thing for the toilet, which helps a great deal.  Though it’s honestly nearly as awkward as showering.  Nearly.
  7. Long hair = wonderful.  There is a noticeable difference whenever I leave my hair down versus have it up.  All of a sudden my neck is warm, my face is warmer, even the back of my head is warmer!  And I say this as someone who keeps wearing my scarf and earmuffs indoors. 
  8. Rain makes life warmer.  I knew this on a theoretical level before, but never really realized it.  The cloud cover traps heat, and the water adds humidity to the air, which stops the winter wind from being so damnably biting.  It’s been raining all today, and though the bottoms of my jeans get wet (and therefore cold), I like it a heck of a lot better than the clear days where I can’t feel my toes.
  9. Taiko and Flamenco are genius ways of keeping warm.  I guess any sort of exercise is, but then since I don’t like exercise too much… (Flamenco dancing is going great, by the by, and I almost have our Taiko routine completely memorized.  I wouldn’t say it’s down pat, though.)
  10. Onsen = friggin’ amazing.  There’s something just plain refreshing about a hot bath outdoors when it’s freezing outside.  It also (supposedly) has amazing health benefits.  Just saying.  And the Iki onsen I go to is so quaint, clean, and rarely busy on weekdays. 
  11. NO BUGS!!! Okay, honestly, I knew this before, but it’s one of the few redeeming qualities of living in a place where it can be this uncomfortable.  Though I did have a cockroach about a week ago.  It’s just great.  I can eat bananas again.  (I heard and/or read somewhere that the potassium in bananas attracts mosquitoes so I stay off them when mosquitoes are out.  This makes me very sad, as I love bananas.  In fact, I just made two loaves of highly delicious banana bread.)

So what are you doing to fight the cold?  I run around in class sometimes, and I’ve been trying to make my activities more.. active.  I’ve heard there have been more winter storms on the West side of the world… hope you’re doing well!

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