Seemingly overnight, office complaints in Japan turn from atsui! to samui! You may have your reservations about joining the choir of complaints right away, but eventually the charm of cool, fall weather will wear away and you’ll find that you can see your breath in your own home. You’ll learn to put certain items, such as olive oil, in the fridge to prevent them from freezing. There are plenty of these so-called “life hacks” to keep you on the side of sanity as you progress sluggishly through the long winter months.
I’m not going to share all the details with you. That would take away the joy of discovering for yourself. But I won’t leave you completely in the dark.
Let’s discuss how to keep your house warm. 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.) Unfortunately, these portable heaters are not that powerful, and the kerosene heaters tend to smell. 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. If it’s not enough to start a fire, chances are the heat will cause them to warp or discolor and then they will need replacing.
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. They can get very warm and are a wonderful place to spend the long, cold winter. You can buy a blanket set that also includes a mat to go underneath the table – this prevents sweaty tatami yuckiness.
A final comment to be had is this: we are not hibernating bears. Thus wise, we should avoid the urge to nest at home under the kotatsu or close to a heater. Winter is the best excuse to search out new onsen (check to see if your area has a stamp card) and have nabe parties. If you’re interested in winter sports, Tajima, the frozen north, has plenty of ski slopes as well as a snowball fight tournament in February. I’ll be posting more on these topics in the following months as a gentle reminder to get out more.
If you have a car, here is some good information about winter driving.