Monday, February 17, 2014

Anticipating spring

I never thought of Japan as a cold place.  All those old Ozu films, you never see people in overcoats and scarves.  His films all have titles like "Late Spring", "Early Summer" and "Equinox Flower".  (Well, his final work was called "An Autumn Afternoon").

Fifteen winters in New York could not have prepared me for the cold of Kyoto.  I don't think I have ever been so cold in my life.  It is a dank, bone-rattling cold.  The temperatures are similar to New York: 40 - 45°F (4 - 7°C) during the day, 30 - 35°(-1 - 2°C) at night.  But it is damp like California.  That is a painful, biting combo.

The other difference is one of architecture.  New York buildings are solid - brick, stone, steel, concrete.  And insulated against the cold.  When you come indoors you leave the frosty temperatures outside.  It's warm, cozy.

Japanese houses (at least the old ones) are designed to stay cool in the sweltering summers.  The walls are thin with no insulation to speak of, and there are a lot of windows to throw open and get the breezes moving through the house on a hot humid day.  There is no consideration at all in this architecture for the three months when it is bitter cold.

When I wake in the morning it is about 34°F (1°C) - inside!  No joke.  34°F.  Yes, there are heaters, but they are no match for these kind of temperatures.  And the little heat they throw literally goes right out the windows, or through the lightweight walls.  I imagine it is something like trying to heat a tent in the winter.  It's just never going to be warm.

I have developed routines to combat the cold.  I read somewhere that in the old days the Japanese would take a warm bath before bed; the heat of the bath would transfer to the bed.  I have adopted this practice.  In fact, I can't imagine entering my bed now without first taking a hot bath.  There is an electric blanket which I sandwich between the other blankets.  This keeps me warm through the night.  Really the only time I can say I'm actually warm is when I'm either in the bath or in bed.

In the morning once the heater is going I dress as quickly as possible, like it is a contest.  Layer upon layer.  I wear sweaters, scarves, beanies and fingerless mittens indoors all day.  I take off the gloves to cook and eat.  I bought some "HEATTECH" thermal underwear from Uniqlo which I can say may have saved my life this winter.  Note to others living in frigid climates.

If I am at home, working on the computer, etc. I usually have the electric blanket wrapped about me and another heavy, wool blanket across my lap.  I feel like an old man waiting to die.

Warm sake also helps.

I am not complaining.  It is actually kind of funny.  It is interesting how one's survival instincts kick in.  This is a winter I will not soon forget.   

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