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Saturday, Jan. 14, 2006

JAPAN LITE

Houses with faux fur lining


It's that time of year for me to give "gaijin" instructions on how to survive the subzero temperatures in Japan. Those inside your house, that is.

News photo
The heating system at Shiraishi Elementary School.

In Japanese houses, you've probably noticed that central heating does not exist, and instead, central refrigeration is the way of life. On one hand it's nice because you can unplug the refrigerator and spread out all the vegetables on the bed. No more things rotting in the back of the fridge because they're out of sight. On the other hand, you probably did not take the Eskimoing 101 elective in college, so you'll need to learn a few things about living in a walk-in refrigerator.

The first thing you'll need is a wall-mounted heater and air conditioner, which the Japanese refer to as "aircon." This will keep the average person warm enough, but not the average gaijin. Therefore, supplement the "aircon" with a "kotatsu," a small table with a heat lamp under it, to keep your legs warm. If you turn up the kotatsu high enough, it's almost like sitting around a bonfire. You'll find that almost all of your body is warm now, except your fingers. Therefore, sit on your hands. Now don't move until springtime.

If you're in an old Japanese house like I am, supplement the above with multiple kerosene heaters, a hot carpet and an electric blanket. North Face jackets also work really well inside. If it's too cold to sleep at night, wear a hat. If it's still too cold, try sleeping pills. Or just move.

I've been so cold in my house that I've even tried to grow fur. I have been working closely with my cat, but we just haven't gotten the formula right yet. In the meantime, I have discovered faux fur and have found that dressing like an overgrown rabbit seems to be the closest thing to having real fur. Faux fur boots, jackets, gloves and hats will keep you quite warm. Now I'm just waiting for them to come out with faux fur interiors, so that I can have a faux fur sofa and toilet. I'd even go as far as to have a complete faux fur kitchen. Even if the fur caught on fire, at least it would be warm.

If you're still cold in your Japanese house, never fear, as I have found from my students the ultimate way to keep warm: jumping. Not jumping through hoops of fire, just plain jumping. I was in the dean's office at the Shiraishi Elementary School while the students were outside between classes jumping rope. The whole class was jumping rope together in groups of 10 or more at one time, with one rope, while the PE teacher was leading along with a tape recording broadcast over the loudspeakers.

"They have nine patterns," the dean told me proudly as we stood watching the jump rope squad out the window. I watched as my English class, in unison, skipped a jump, changed patterns and brought the rope to the left side -- flung a few lassos in the air, brought the rope back to the right side and started jumping in rhythm again.

"PE teacher champion jump roper," said the dean, who was, curiously, wearing baggy pants in the style of a high school student. "This is how we stay warm in the winter time because our school has no heat."

The school was built only three years ago. But heat was not installed, as it is generally believed that having to bear the cold makes students tougher. So the students' uniforms consist of an overcoat and shorts, and they jump rope between classes.

So there you have it. Strip down to your shorts and jump rope. You'll never be cold again.

Planet Japan: www.planetjapan.org and the Animal Tales Internet site: amychavez.blogspot.com


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