Thursday, 5 February 2015

Issues In Winter

This entry is going to be part of a series since what I have to say is going to be quite long.  I got this idea a couple days ago when I was at one of my schools.  Some things in Japan just irk me the wrong way.  But rather than just complain about the issues, I'd also like to find solutions to these "problems".  Don't get me wrong.  Japan has a lot of great things going for it, but every nation has its pros and cons.  So, let's begin with the issue then, shall we?

Every morning in winter, I wake up cold.  Now, some of you may call that shameful considering I'm Canadian, but please hear me out.  This is my third and last year living in Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan.  It's so warm here that on the one day it snows, people freak out and barely make it to work in their tiny kei cars (small, cheap cars with tiny engines).  That snow day comes in December, but most years it doesn't come at all.  In late January/early February, the morning temperature drops to about -5˚C, which, for comparison, could pass a typical spring or fall temperature in my home country (except Vancouver).  Despite that, though, I still wake up cold.

Japanese homes are built for the intense, humid heat of summer.  Most homes have no insulation and the windows are thin and single-paned.  Thanks to the thin walls, sometimes I feel like the temperature in my apartment is not that different from the temperature outside.  But that's all fine and dandy.  I have a kotatsu and a space heater to warm up my bedroom a little.

The problem is when I get to school (I'm an ALT, assistant language teacher, FYI).  Most schools in Japan are the dullest structures I've ever seen.  They're off-white, darted with windows, and the older ones probably haven't been renovated in the past 50 or more years.  There are some exceptions, but most schools could best be described as skeletons filled with the usual desks, chairs, computers, and whatnot.  Many classrooms have fans hanging from the ceilings, a life-saver in summer.  But in winter, these same classrooms become frozen tombs.  The only thing warming them is the heat emanating from the students' bodies.  Students in Kagoshima have to wear uniforms that typically don't compensate for the cold.  Worse still, some poorer elementary schools don't provide winter and summer uniforms, so I often see kids going to school in tiny shorts.  Can you please tell me what parent in their right mind sends their child to school in -3˚C to -5˚C in shorts?

Sometimes it's the strict rules that bother me.  At some of my schools, students aren't allowed to walk around with their hands in their pockets, and if they do, they're scolded for it.  Using hokkairo or "heating pads" during class is prohibited.  During cleaning time, all the windows are opened to air out the building for the prevention of influenza.

Now I, for one, that if I'm constantly freezing, I can't think straight and I can't write efficiently.  Even though I'm Canadian and "Canada is even colder than Japan" ("demo, Canada wa motto samui desu ne?"), I still complain about the cold.  Who wouldn't?  Even the Japanese do.  Winter tends to be the driest time of the year, but it's still humid enough to make the cold sink into your clothes.  Very uncomfortable.

In a place like this, you just have to wait it out, much like that accursed rainy season.  Ugh, now that's even worse!  Shou ga nai ne?  (It can't be helped.)

Tune in for the next entry when I explore more issues about the cold, insulation possibility, heating, and inadequate school uniforms.


  1. Great post! I totally agree! And not all of Canada is that cold, and we have proper heating to compensate for it!

    1. Yeah, just look at Vancouver. I faintly remember it barely snowing one year. Does it even get snow anymore?