Autumn is quickly unfolding into winter here in the hills of Okuizumo- and with winter comes new adjustments for Natalie. Heating is handled very differently in Japan. When us Jets arrived we were informed that buildings were constructed to be cool in the summer- not to be warm in the winter. So the large glass doors and many windows I found to be so delightful in summer's heat are now becoming the bane of my existence. Japan doesn't believe in insulation or central heating, so making a building warm gets extremely expensive. And what do the schools do? They do without.
This is only a slight exaggeration. The teacher's nucleus is somewhat heated, and I am told that once it gets REALLY cold (as if the current highs of 12 degrees Celsius isn't low enough to warrent "cold") the classrooms will be somewhat heated too. But the hallways, bathrooms, and gymnasium will all be whatever the hell temperature it is outside. Heating is achieved largely by kerosene or sometimes electric space heaters. Such a situation is quite a shock for me, as I am a wimp when it comes to cold to begin with. I'm not sure if it's poor circulation or the lack of red meat in my diet, but I am literally always freezing. At first I thought I was going crazy-I wear as much clothes as possible and shiver while the kids run around in practically nothing and don't complain. In some classrooms (ones with carpet or tatami) we even have to take off our shoes, and the kids find this completely acceptable. It blew my mind. But then I realized that 1. Most Americans, when asked to sit outside on a 50 degree fall day without a coat, hat, gloves, or shoes, would naturally get cold. This is exactly what I am doing all day here, except that I'm inside. The outside and inside temperature is equal. They would find it strange for me to wear my outside goods inside but I am sorely tempted. 2. The kids are used to the cold. Most walk to and from school every day rain, sunshine, or blizzard- so a little fifty degree weather is nothing to complain about. Frankly, they are soldiers.
So what am I doing? I have bought a variety of long underwear (Uniqlo makes fabulously soft ones called Heat Tech- thanks again Uniqlo), I wear two layers of socks, and I bought some magic heat packs called ﾎｯｶｲﾛ or hokkairo that I can use at will. I don't have a heater in my apartment so to protect myself against the 3 degree nights I rarely leave the comfort of my electric blanket. (Seriously. When I have to pee it's a definite conflict of interests).
But in the end I will just have to learn to bear it. Today before lunch at Takao, the secretary asked "It's a bit cold in the lunchroom- only 50 degrees; is it too early to turn on the heat a little?" "Yes, it's too early" replied the principal. "We will bear it." (我慢します)
My hope is that I will get used to it and not notice it so much soon. I was proud of myself today for not complaining about it too much during class, until afterward I realized I'd lost all feeling in my toes and had to run around to get blood pumping back into them.
Japan, I like you- but your schools have to stop abusing me with their wintry ways.