Friday, December 01, 2006

Middle-Aged Man Winter

If places that have a proper winter are visited by "old man winter", Tokyo is visited by the much less crotchety and severe "middle-aged man winter." Winter here is relatively mild and it also came very late this year. It usually snows no more than 4 days per season, and sometimes not at all. The high temperatures tend to run between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit and the lows between 30 and 40. It stayed comfortable without the use of heating up until about this week when the temperatures finally started to fall regularly into the low 60's.

Each year, my husband and I do our best to endure the temperature changes for as long as possible before kicking in with the cooling and heating. In the winter, this is far easier than in the summer for a variety of reasons. For starters, my husband and I are both more sensitive to heat than to cold. In my case, this makes sense since I grew up in the northeastern part of the U.S. where winter is long, dangerous and freezing cold. My husband is just one of those people who heats up fast and stays hot.

Beyond that though, it's far easier to dress to warm oneself up than to strip off enough to cool down. There's only so much you can take off but it's easy to pile on layers of clothes to stay warm, especially when the temperatures are no worse than those you get in Tokyo. I usually get by for as long as possible with a sweater and a blanket for my legs when I'm at the computer. This pretty much sees me through anything down to about 60-62 degrees, particularly if I make an effort to get up and do fairly physically demanding housework at regular intervals.

Having grown up in Pennsylvania where the winters require you to save up enough during the rest of the year so you can afford to pay for heating oil during the winter, I'm used to the idea of setting the thermostat low and putting up with the cold as much as possible. In my family's case, they also have adapted by using a wood burning stove to diminish the amount of expensive fuel they need every winter. It's a bonus that growing up conditioned not to use heat when you can avoid it spares the environment as well as reduces the gas bill.

Unfortunately, it became clear to me this week as I became uncomfortably cold while teaching lessons (in which I can neither use a blanket nor get up and walk around to kick up my metabolism) that I was going to have to give in and drag out our heater for the sake of my students if nothing else. The heater we use was actually purchased second-hand from my brother-in-law who recently blogged about his purchase of a new heater. It's my guess that he wouldn't need one now if we hadn't bought his venerable gas heater when he had to give it up over a decade ago when he left Japan to return to the U.S. for his Masters degree.

While this heater is quite effective, it's at least somewhat dangerous when you have to place it in areas which require you to step over it to get to other rooms. The wire guard on the front of it is bent up a bit because I once fell backwards on it when I was pulling laundry (that was hung on the balcony to dry) into the apartment and forgot it was there. As I backed into the bedroom with a huge pile of clothes in my arms, I tripped over it and landed with my leg firmly on top of it. Fortunately, it was on at a half intensity setting so the flame wasn't very high and I didn't get burned. I decided from then on never to retrieve anything from the balcony with the heater on.

Having rearranged the furniture since that incident, the heater is no longer in a place where one is likely to fall over it but it is incredibly close to the bed where there is a danger of blankets falling on it while one is sleeping. That means we can never leave it on at night but that's okay since it just encourages us to snuggle under the blankets for warmth at night.

Update: With what I felt was a great deal of kind consideration for my well-being, Roy mentioned in the comments section that old gas heaters may be at risk for leaking toxic gasses so I contacted Tokyo Gas about checking our heater. I was told that ours isn't really old enough to be a problem and that they could come and check anyway for 2,000 yen but it probably wasn't necessary unless we smelled something wrong or we started having headaches when we used it. Phew!


Tokyo Rosa said...

i was always deathly afraid of most heating mechanisms in japan.

seriously. my apartment came with a kotatsu--that i never plugged in, of course. (can you imagine the headline? "gaijin killed by kotatsu") and i was enormously glad that i never had to deal with a kerosene heater.

i always just drank a lot of hot tea and ran the heater part of my ac/heater combo--sometimes to the tune of 7000 yen a month in winter!

stay warm this winter!

Roy said...

Is that a gas heater? If so I would be very careful about using it. Old gas heaters can leak toxic fumes when not properly maintained. The gas guys should always come around the house and check the hoses.

It's a coincidence that you posted this as just yesterday I bought a gasfan heater from Tokyo Gas. It has minus ion and all that jazz. And it has a pretty blue and green light.

Roy said...

BTW, doesn't winter begin on Dec.23?

Shari said...

Tokyo rosa: Using the A/C for heating is really expensive so we never do it. I've also found that the heat it produces doesn't seem very persistent so you have to run it constantly. In the summer, it's bad enough that we have 11,000 yen bills to keep things cool. ;-)

Roy: Yes, it is a gas heater and the hose was replaced about 3-4 years ago. The connection to the wall socket was checked about 2 years ago but I don't know if either of those are the concern you mention. The socket is a locking type which would seem to prevent leaks but I don't know if that's where the problem would lie. Is the issue related to decay of the heater itself or the connection to it (the hose or socket)? I don't think the heater itself has ever been checked.

Heh, and yes, winter officially begins on Dec. 23rd but I'm cold now. ;-)