Friday, February 02, 2007

Snow in Japan and Why I miss central heating!

In Japan the snow hangs off of the Japanese architecture in a very beautiful and serene sort of way. Little rooftop dragon ornaments poke their heads out of the snow blanket while crisp snow crunches under your foot steps break the still air. Standing against the granduer of amazing landscapes, the chill of the winter breeze like the ones talked about in old Buddhist poems, the white puff of breath and the Japanese mountain-scape harkens back to a time when the ancient samurai guarded the snowy mountain passages and roamed Japan throughout all four seasons. Just thinking that a Japanese home has walls such thin walls and the inside doors are merely paper makes one reconsider the term "toughing it out for the winter."

Jump ahead several hundred years and not much has changed in the way of Japanese architecture. To be quite blunt, while the Japanese have strived to push the external technology to new heights they have not yet refined their 'internal' or 'comfort' technologies. People in Japan still prefer to wash their dishes by hand, even though most houses are fully equipped with ready and willing 'washing machines'. Yet being an English teacher in Japan can often times be a leg numbing, finger rubbing, nose sniffling, bone chilling experience. With all of their modern day wonders the Japanese still haven't figured out the basic concept of 'central heating'. In Japan houses and schools do not have insulation, they don't have double pained glass, nor do they even have heat.

Immediately there are two concerns: first the Japanese would hate to ruin this particular 'Japanesey feeling' of the old traditional ways, the old archaic notions of 'toughing it out' like the samurai ring beautiful to the Japanese ear (even at the extend of freezing to death), and secondly they will be quick to remind you of energy conservation. I myself find both answers hard to acknowledge when 90% of my students are either too awfully cold (in the winter) or to darn hot (in the summer). Half the time they are freezing or sweating and since I have come here there has rarely been a steady 'comfort' level in the class room. Of course there is the rare lovely day when the birds sing, the breeze is sweet, and all is well... but in the mountainous regions of mid to upper Japan... central heating, in my humble opinion, is a must.

The main reasons are obvious, students comfort levels would be higher, they'd be less focused on staying hot or cool and more focused on class (well maybe not always, but at least the distraction of constantly having to stay warm would be eliminated). Also, as far as energy conservation goes, I don't think that chugging away petroleum to use small gas heaters to heat twelve or so rooms in a few dozen schools, not to mention a few hundred thousand nationwide, is all that energy efficient. Not when ALL of the schools are made of concrete and single pained glass windows, most of which don't shut all the way and are unsealed. But don't try and tell the Japanese how to 'modernize' their living style... to them modernity has nothing much to do with national pride in being quite stubborn in their specific sense of what
exactly is 'Japanese' to them, and certain styles require different tastes. Sure, they may all wear western style suites, talk on state of the art mobile phones, and drive fancy new automobiles, on the surface they may appear 'westernized' but under all this external wear is a very singular national identity of what it is to be Japanese. They can't tell you exactly what it is, but it's walking to school in the snow and toughing it out like the days of old. I guess under Japan's high-tech guise is a samurai spirit glowing with a keen sense of what it means to live in Japan.

And although I may not always agree with it, I sure do admire it. It’s about having a sense of tradition. It is this very sense of tradition which adds to the richness of life in Japan. It is something both old and new, something which is always changing on the surface, but remaining ever the same at the centre -at the very core. It is both beautiful and enticing. And for anyone who's lived in Japan, well, you either love it or hate it... but the impact is always profound.

1 comment:

Jen said...

*ahem* Bubble wrap is not insulation! -Okay, I feel better (although not warmer) now.