As I sit a my desk on another Tuesday morning at my main school, the sun streams through my window causing me to squint to lessen the glare. I don't move to close the curtain, as the sun reflects off the snowy roof causing it to glitter. Instead I breathe a sigh of relief, winter in Japan is almost at an end.
Flashback to November; the weather turns cool, the autumn colours are everywhere, you get excited to try out your new beanie (toque), scarf and winter coat. December arrives and you gingerly make that appointment at the Mechanic to change over to your snow tyres, and then BAM its January. It's a whole different ball game.
Winter in a small 'city' in the heart of Hyogo can be rough. My city counterparts complain of the cold, I just laugh at them. Even Takarazuka, only a 40 minute train ride away, is typically 5 degrees warmer partially due to the phenomenon known as 'urban heat island'. Now, I know I do not have the worst of it. Northern Hyogo-ers have to combat a great deal more snow, storms and cold brought by the cold fronts from north. Sasayama has a rather unique climate caused by the mountains it is surrounded by. The heat of summer lingers in our mountain basin, as does the cold. Countless times I've looked to the local weather report and again, laughed. I know better. Inevitably the days weather turns out to be something similar to what our friends in Toyooka receive, rather than the weather of the south.
As a sufferer of SAD (seasonal affective disorder) I also have the unfortunate luck to be overly susceptible to chilblains, so things can get pretty tough. Winter has some of the sunniest days Japan sees in a year, but other weeks can pass without seeing a ray of sunshine (typical, I can see the stars at night), so friends gather together and vent over a nice nabe (hot pot) dinner.
Now ways to combat the cold that would be seen as bizarre anywhere else are normal practice here. Older Japanese homes do not use double glazed windows, or insulation in the walls. Staying warm is a uphill battle.
The Japanese LOVE kerosene heaters, but I personally can't stand them, so I make do with my reverse cycle air conditioner and the power bill. Double glazed windows have been replaced by bubble wrap. Most days upon my return home I have to crank the aircon to heat up my room, while seeking refuge in a hot shower. I don't have hot water in my kitchen, so I must carry a bucket from the bathroom, and place a small radiant heater in the kitchen to take the chill off the air as I do the dishes. I regularly seek respite from the cold at the gym, or the local heated pool (complete with sauna). Days on the ski slopes make me truly think I could love winter, but it's a expensive past time if you're not on the doorstep of a resort.
At school I wear 2 pairs of socks, thermal leggings under my dress pants, and usually 4 layers and top. On REALLY cold days I'll use a 'kairo', a small hand warmer, sometimes with a sticky backing so it can be placed on one of those layers to keep you warm. Some days I refuse to take off my outdoors jacket, and most days I sit at my desk wrapped in a small blanket like a piece of sushi.
So where was I? Oh yeah, winter is drawing to a close (though sometimes there is snow as late as April) and the sun is shining through my window. At the end of the day, if Japan didn't do this:
we wouldn't get this:
So I guess in it's own way, Japan makes up for it.