You, Me, And a Tanuki is a weekly featured blog run by Michelle, a Californian who is currently one of only two foreigners living in Chibu, a tiny fishing village on one of the Oki islands in Japan. Check back every Saturday for a new post or read more on her website here!
Japan is cold. No, I’m not talking about the people; it’s the weather that sends a chill down my spine. No insulation, central heating, or double-paned windows, and in most public buildings – schools included – there’s no hot water; modern Japanese construction ensures that you will feel every bone-chilling drop in temperature once November rolls around.
When the mercury dips below freezing and there’s nothing to stop the cold from leeching in to your home, sometimes you have to take drastic measures. And when you’re backed into a (freezing cold) corner, it makes you do some crazy things… like wrap your entire house in bubble wrap.
Six crazy things I did because I was cold:
1) Wrapped my entire house in bubble wrap
Every window, door, and crack in my house is lined with bubble wrap or sealed with packing tape. It looks a little something like this:
Since the windows are single paned and none of the doors seem to line up properly, the winter winds frolic through my house at their leisure unless bubble wrap and hoards of packing tape are there to stop them. It looks awful and makes me feel like I’m living in a plastic to-go box, but it’s too cold to care about interior decoration.
2) Moved all of my daily necessities to one room, have plans to never leave that room until spring.
The feng shui of your home is especially unimportant when you’re living out of one room. In an effort to conserve energy and stay warm, I consolidated my three-room duplex into one room. This allows me to only emerge from the comforts of that single lukewarm room when I frantically run down the hallway to the bathroom, pee as fast as I can, then run back and dive under the kotatsu. Speaking of kotatsu….
3) Had (have?) an unhealthy love affair with my kotatsu
A kotatsu is part table, part blanket, and part heater. Wikipedia “officially” defines kotatsu as “a low, wooden table frame covered by a futon, or heavy blanket, upon which a table top sits. Underneath is a heat source, often built into the table itself.” To me, it is simply “heaven”. If I didn’t have work obligations or a husband to entertain, I would stay under the kotatsu all day, every day. It’s a sanctuary; the one place in my house where I don’t shiver uncontrollably. I am in love with my kotatsu… and I think it loves me, too.
4) Filled my house with carbon monoxide
In my area of Japan, almost everyone uses a kerosene heater to warm their home or office. It’s really effective and often makes the room too hot for comfort. But the downside of running a kerosene heater with all of the doors and windows tightly shut is the accumulation of carbon monoxide in your house. You know, the odorless, silent killer. You have to be sure to air out the room every few hours or risk going into a deep sleep… forever. Oh, and kerosene heaters have been known to cause housefires since the metal frame becomes burning hot. It happened to a house in my neighborhood in February of last year, in fact.
So yeah, that’s pretty crazy.
5) Stuck an excessive amount of portable heat pads to my body
Even though it’s really cold in Japan, the country has invented plenty of ways to combat the winter chill. My favorite winter-fighting method is the use of portable heat pads. Officially they’re known as kairo (or the brand name hokkairo), but I just call them “hotties”. Hotties are small packs of chemicals that warm up when exposed to oxygen, and there are various shapes and sizes available from supermarkets and drug stores, many of which can be stuck to your clothing. But sometimes one isn’t enough… and when two just doesn’t do it, I take out the big guns and cover my body in the little stickers of warmth. It looks like this:
▲ Don’t judge me, I’m cold.
6) Cursed the sea gods
Since I live on an island, I am at the mercy of the sea. For example, the sea decides whether or not I go on the trip I planned for three months. Oh, you bought $300 non-refundable plane tickets for an airport on the mainland today? Too bad, I feel like having a fit and throwing the ocean as high as six meters.
The sea also decides whether or not I eat. All of the foods at the two general stores, including fresh vegetables, are hauled in on boats that take 2.5 hours to reach us from the mainland. As often happens in winter, when the boats are canceled due to rough seas, we don’t get food. The longest the boats have been canceled is three days in a row, but after just the second day, the general stores were picked clean of any fresh produce. That’s why I have to keep a stockpile of non-perishable foods in the winter.
Curse you, sea gods!
But winter isn’t so bad. Firstly, I never have to refrigerate anything because the temperature in the kitchen is often colder than the refrigerator itself. That’s why if I don’t keep the olive oil in the fridge, it turns out looking like this:
Winter is also the perfect cuddle season. When it’s 35 degrees Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) and 100% humidity (ah, summer in Japan!), I don’t want to go anywhere near my husband lest our sweaty bodies collide in an uncomfortable, hot mess. But in the winter, I can’t get enough of my human-heater husband. Now if only he came with an adhesive backing like the sticker heat pads…
Uh, sorry about that. My brain is frozen. Anyways, if I ever leave Japan for a warmer climate, I hope I can look back on the crazy things I did because I was cold and chuckle. Right now, I’m too cold to feel any emotions.
Michelle is originally from California, but currently lives in the tiny fishing village of Chibu, one of the Oki islands in Japan. Being one of two foreigners living in an island village of a little over 600 people presents many adventures. Come back next week for a new article featuring the interesting and bizarre things she comes across in her life in rural Japan. Once a week not enough? Check out her blog, You, Me, And A Tanuki, for photographs and even more articles.
We’re still looking for more unique and interesting stories from Asia to share with the world, so drop us a line if you’d like to have your own blog featured on RocketNews24.