A byte of life from the Land of Sumos and Sushi

Monday, December 05, 2005

Japan is often touted as a high tech country, pimping out its electronic gadgetry to the rest of the planet, but when it comes to keeping warm, they are only on par with the third world. The majority of their buildings are poorly designed with little to no insulation, and huge portions of walls are given over to drafty, single glazed windows from which heat is sucked from a room.

Rather than taking the modern approach of insulation and central heating, so that all rooms in a building are kept at a pleasant temperature, they still chose to heat rooms that are in use, with a single heater.

Even more stone age, is the fact that the vast majority of their heaters run on paraffin (kerosene), and must be refilled regularly, by hand. The staff room and classrooms in my schools are heated by such appliances, and whilst they do keep the rooms at a reasonably comfortable temperature, they also emit fumes and present an obvious fire hazard. Paraffin is the smell of winter in Japan.

This decentralisation of heat has lead to the development of other weapons of warmth. The kotatsu, is a heated table, which you cover with a blanket, and sit under. Small pocket hand warmers are very popular with students to save their mitts from frost bite, at home the heated carpet is another favourite, and you’ve all heard of the heated toilet seat.

Corridors, bathrooms and hallways are completed unheated, meaning that they are normally only a couple of degrees warmer than outside. In fact, it amazes me that in my school, they often leave doors and windows wide open, even when it’s almost freezing outside.

I still find it hard to understand why they don’t build their houses with decent insulation and a modern central heating system. In a country that is plus 30C in summer, and sub zero in winter, they would obviously benefit from double glazing and loft insulation, but it’s rarely seen, the reason given is that it’s “too expensive”.

Another thing that I’ve found strange, is that in my school, the rules state that only when the temperature drops to 12C in the corridors, may the heaters in the staff room be turned on. What’s even more patronising is that only two teachers have been empowered with the authority to switch on the heat source. I find it somewhat ridiculous and “big brother” like, that grown men and women can’t even switch on a heater when they’re cold.

Lewis, a friend in a town nearby, has it even worse; his school rules state that the heaters cannot be turned on, no matter how cold, until the 1st of December. Seeing as there has been several frosty mornings over the last few weeks, and there’s snow on the mountains, this seems to be silly rule, but if there’s one thing the Japanese are good at, it’s completely and utterly abiding by the rules, no matter what the situation.

STOP PRESS: The Eagle has landed – this morning I awoke to 10cm of snow on the ground, and as I type this, the rumbling thunder snow storm continues, with sheets of snow falling thick and fast. I had to switch to four wheel drive mode to make it into work today, and unconfirmed rumours are circulating suggesting Fukui’s biggest ski resort (Kastsuyama Ski Jam) has opened early.

It has begun...


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