In Hyogo-ken, the winter varies depending on where you live. In the north and central mountains, it is very cold and you can expect to see a fair amount of snow. The south stays mild and rarely drops below freezing, with a light dusting of snow a few times every winter.
Buildings in Japan are not usually equipped with central heating and they often lack insulation. It may be difficult for you to adjust to this at school - you will probably want to wear your overcoat and scarf even in the classroom. Keep in mind, however, that many schools disallow this since they want the teachers to set an example for the students are forced to "gaman" (endure) in their school uniforms. Luckily, most staff rooms have an electric or kerosene heater. Hopefully you will be lucky enough to sit far from the door and be near a heater.
At home, you may want to close off one or two of the rooms for the winter if you live in a larger house. You can also help keep the heat in by covering your windows with plastic or cardboard (basically a cheap version of double-paned windows.)
Most air-conditioners can also be used as heaters, but keep in mind that this is probably the most expensive way to heat your home. Most of you probably have a portable electric or kerosene heater in your homes (check in the closet - your predecessor probably shoved it back there last summer.) If your home isn't equipped with these appliances, ask your supervisor where you can buy an inexpensive one. In some cases, your school, BOE, or some kind person in the community will give you one. Unfortunately, these portable heaters are not that powerful, and the kerosene heaters tend to smell. But they will soon be your best friend when the winter comes...you'll see. When using a kerosene heater, remember to keep the room ventilated! Keep a window slightly cracked open and make sure to buy a carbon-monoxide detector. When you run out of kerosene, it can be bought at most gas stations. Regarding portable heaters in general, remember to be careful about fires. Keep the heater far from walls, paper screen doors, clothing, etc. Also, make sure to keep the heater far from sliding doors - the heat will cause them to warp and they may have to be replaced.
There are a variety of other electric devices to help you stay warm during the winter. Your three best friends during the Japanese winter will be your kotatsu, electric rug, and electric blanket. Your house probably came with all three of these, so check the closet before you buy these. For those who don't know, a kotatsu (炬燵) is a low table with a heat lamp attached to the underside. It has a removable top so that you can put a blanket between the tabletop and the frame to trap heat underneath the table. You can buy a blanket set that also includes a mat to go underneath the table - this prevents sweaty tatami yuckiness. They can get very warm and are a wonderful place to spend the long, cold winter. Oh, and it is probably not very safe to sleep under one, but if you do, you will certainly not be the first.
For those of you who live in colder areas, it is a good idea to keep some extra bottled water in a warm place for days when the pipes freeze. You can then boil this water and pour it over the frozen pipe.
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