About the Cold

The other day, when I mentioned that I woke up to 4 degrees inside the house, I didn’t expect two things:

  1. That it could get even colder – all the way down to 2 degrees and
  2. that I would receive so many messages about this.

So, let me explain a bit what’s going on and how I deal with the cold. After all, I can’t stay in bed all day. That’s Pumpkin’s responsibility.

Traditional houses in Japan have always been built to allow for lots of airflow – there’s the gaps under the tatami, the shoji and fusuma made from paper, and the wooden framework that’s maybe 10 cm thick at best. This is great in the heat and humidity of summer, when every puff of air is valuable. In winter, even the Japanese are less appreciative about the matter.

And if you think that modern houses are better, you are mistaken. Even though the building materials are better and more airtight in general, 10 cm of insulation (at best) are not sufficient to keep in the warmth over night, even if there were central heating. And let’s not mention my personal nemesis/pet peeve, those single-glazed windows…

So, even though you get used to living in a freezing house, the Japanese battle the three coldest months of the year on various fronts. And I try my best to follow their example.

  • Layers and Layers of Clothes.
    A special type of underwear called “heat tech” is extremely popular, as are thin down jackets as outer layer for indoors. In between, there can be several layers of sweaters; cotton, wool, fleece, anything goes, really.
  • Space heaters.
    Except for the northern prefectures like Hokkaido, central heating is unknown in Japan. And when you think of it, it’s quite a waste to heat a room that’s unused all day. So, the Japanese use space heaters that they turn on when needed. Some of them are electric or gas-powered, but nowadays, the ubiquitous air-condition is used, which all have a special setting for heating.
    Traditionally, a kotatsu was used, that’s a low table with a heating element underneath, over which a heavy blanket was placed to trap the warmth. Many families still use them. They wear heavy jackets on top, while their nether regions underneath the blanket stay warm without so much as socks even.
  • Consolidation.
    If all else fails, you can move your life into a single room for a few months. Instead of heating several rooms one at a time, all activities take place in the living room, for example. In the evening, you just put out the futon for everybody. This is easier if you don’t have kids, though.
  • Hot baths.
    Another thing that helps against the colds, and which the Japanese perform as a daily habit throughout the year, is taking a hot bath just before bedtime. With the body nicely heated up by the ofuro, falling asleep is quite easy, no matter the temperature in the bedroom.

In the new house, I do mostly the layering and the space heaters, with only the occasional hot bath. Thankfully, I got myself a really nice woolen blanked 2 years ago, so I don’t need to heat the bedroom at all.

Also, the cold doesn’t “bite” the same every time the thermometer shows the same number. Thankfully, all the windows are closing properly here, so there’s no draft. However, I found out that on rainy or snowy days, it feels colder than when the humidity is low. Sadly, there’s not much I can do about that. Other than hope for an early spring, that is. This year, I’m not hopeful…