It’s cold here.
“Cold” doesn’t begin to express winter in Japan. I’m lucky to live on the southernmost main island, but I am still suffering. The temperature hovers in the 40s most of the time; it has reached freezing, though, and the days often vary from the 30s in the morning to the 50s at high afternoon.
Doesn’t sound so bad, right? Ha. The problem, as many of you know, is that houses are not insulated here. And there is no central heating in most places. So, outside of the bathtub or in bed, you’re never really totally warm. And when it’s 50 degrees outside, it’s 50 degrees inside, too. Most of the time I can see my breath in my apartment.
At school, the heat doesn’t turn on until 8:30 am, though I and many other teachers arrive at around 7:30, and everyone must be on time for an 8:15 daily meeting. The classrooms are heated, too, but the windows are often kept open “to keep fresh air flowing.”
There’s no heating anywhere else at school. The teacher’s room, the classrooms, and that’s it. The gym, meeting rooms, and bathrooms are all unheated. Worse, the windows that line the hallways are all kept WIDE open. As are all of the exterior doors – and since the school is made of various interconnected buildings, there are many. A fellow teacher told me that the doors are left open for convenience, as students pass through them in between periods. But that doesn’t explain the windows!
The worst thing of all is that the kids are not allowed to wear their jackets, gloves, or anything, no matter how cold it is. The girls wear knee-length skirts year-round, and most don’t bother with stockings. They often arrive at school with pants under their skirts, and then remove them at their lockers.
Gym classes are often held outside. The kids always wear special gym uniforms, comprised of shorts and t-shirts. There is an elementary school next door to our school, and there, too, I see tiny kids running around the playground in sleeveless gym shirts and tiny running shorts. This includes mornings, when it is usually in the 30s or 40s.
The teachers walk around all day saying “it’s cold” (“samui!”) to each other as a greeting. We laugh as we see one another shivering or walking barefoot in a cold room where shoes are not allowed. Then we all go home to apartments or houses where we walk around in heavy sweaters and blankets wrapped around our shoulders, and where we sprint in and out of the bathrooms or other spare rooms that don’t have heaters.
My fellow JETs and I think it’s insane, obviously. But the Japanese spirit is to suffer through, and seemingly, to reject anything that smacks of coddling or indulgence, particularly for kids.
A fellow teacher told me that traditionally, houses are built with the hot summers in mind, rather than the winters, because summers are more severe. That IS true, but given that most people have air conditioners these days, why haven’t builders realized that insulation is good for both????
Next week we have a JET meeting in Fukuoka City, and one of the seminars is on ways to keep warm in the winter here. The Japanese have come up with a crazy assortment of appliances and gadgets to keep warm; maybe I’ll do a quick entry on them. As you can tell, I’m a little obsessed with the cold. Here’s hoping that surviving this winter will make me tougher in the long run!