Thursday, December 21, 2006
Great Balls of Fire
The eyesore pictured above is the gas-powered water heating unit that is installed in my kitchen. To operate it, you push in the big blue button on the front, you hear a clicking noise as the pilot light inside lights up and then you can see a blue flame through the narrow window above the button and hot water comes out of the hose. You can control how hot or cool the heated water is by dialing the blue button clock-wise (that controls the water flow) and/or sliding a lever at the bottom right which is under the button (that turns the flame up or down).
This system is not only unattractive, it's also inefficient but Japanese apartments are too small to have the type of water-heating systems that you see in most U.S. homes. A similar type of water heater is in the shower area. It can also be a little scary if you forget to use the ventilation fan in the kitchen while operating the kitchen water heater. If you don't use the fan, occasionally a large blob of flame will burst out of the top and make a loud noise. For real excitement, there are the times when flames shoot out both sides and the top. You can imagine that I try hard to remember to turn on the fan.
I consider us somewhat lucky that we have this type of unit at all. In my husband's first apartment in Japan (before we were together), there was no hot water at all. This was awhile ago so it may be relatively rare for apartments to no longer include hot water in the kitchen but I have heard other foreigners complain about not having hot water to wash their dishes.
In both of the offices occupied by my former company, they had tiny little cylindrical water heaters installed under the sinks so that you didn't have to have this type of monstrosity hanging over your sink. In one case, the water was scalding even at the lowest setting and, in the other, it didn't work at all. I'm guessing that's why few of those types of water heaters are used. I'm also guessing they are more expensive. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure they don't shoot out balls of fire on occasion.