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Saturday, Jan. 31, 2004

JAPAN LITE

Tiny hot carpets and long frozen delays


For those of you rolling your eyes at the prospect of reading my annual column whining about the lack of central heating in Japan, wait. This one, I promise, will be different. Because things are changing in Japan.

I knew something was up this winter when I walked into the university teachers' room and the secretary had the heat on so high I had to open a window to keep from getting heat stroke. I never thought I'd be complaining about tropical weather in wintertime in Japan.

Then, upon entering the classroom, the students had turned up the heat so high, I was afraid of contracting malaria. Of course, it's understandable since fashion dictates they must stay sexy all winter long and wear tank tops and miniskirts even in subzero weather. The cold surely keeps the skin rosy. I suspect that these students are even (gasp!) sleeping with the heat on so they can wear sexy negligees.

Could this be a turning point in Japan's history of harmony among misery during the wintertime? Being of the genus "gaijin" and the species "American," I have been telling the Japanese for years, It's not the body that needs to be heated, it's the air! Yet the Japanese continue to buy products to heat specific parts of the body instead, such as the "kotatsu" table to heat the legs, the electric "zabuton" to keep the butt warm and the electric carpet, or "hotto kapeto," to sit on.

The other day, I went to a friend's house and was greeted at the door by the Michelin Man: the lady of the house wearing a hat, scarf and a down jacket on top of layers of quilted clothing. To me, this is just not the kind of warm welcome my species expects.

The electric carpet is another great idea gone awry -- instead of using it as a form of heating the air like the Koreans do, where the heat emanates up from the floor, the carpets in Japan are touch-sensitive, so only start heating after you sit on them. This has produced a new unit of time called the "frozen delay": that minute or so of sitting on the carpet waiting for it to warm up. Thus, you can't walk across the carpet and feel warmth oozing between your toes. Nor does any of the heat get released into the air.

Nowadays, young people don't use the kotatsu anymore, but instead are opting for the frozen delay and "hotto kapeto." But either method ensures you'll spend the entire winter on the floor. The other day, I had seven guests in my living room, not one of them sitting on the sofa or chairs. Instead, everyone was crowded on the tiny floor space in the middle, resulting in a nucleus of activity on top of the electric carpet. It was as if they were on a crowded rescue boat in the sea, everyone being careful not to fall over the edge. As time wore on, people adopted various lying positions to warm one side of their body. They'd turn over every now and then like hamburgers on a grill. It was soon a completely horizontal gathering.

This got me to thinking that if central heating is never going to be big in Japan, we should at least try to work on a formula for growing fur. Or feathers. Feathers would allow us to stand around in groups like penguins and at least have cocktail parties.

However, I think I've figured out how to achieve almost central heating. I discovered that the triple combination of wall heater, hotto kapeto and kotatsu works in even the coldest weather. The only problem is, just as I was bringing in the palm trees and Hawaiian mural scenes, the fuse blew out.

E-mail: amychavez2000@yahoo.com Web site: www.amychavez.com


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