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Saturday, Dec. 13, 2008

JAPAN LITE

A frosty reception


It's getting cold , a bit frosty, you might say. But I'm used to having frost on the windows of my house, even in the summer time. This is due to an amazing phenomenon in Japan called frosted glass.

Never underestimate the use of frosted glass in Japan. Here, it gathers into patterns of flowers, squares, swirly patterns and stars. You might rather call it decorative glass as the patterns in it make it look more like something you'd wrap a present with.

When I moved into this house 12 years ago, I took it over in the condition the previous tenant, an 81-year-old lady, had left it when she moved to the mainland. This gave me an opportunity to see firsthand how Japanese people live: cloistered. The abundance of frosted glass ensures not only that only subdued natural light comes in, but also that you'll never be able to see outside.

On my planet, the United States, frosted glass is reserved for the bathroom where you don't want anyone to be able to see in. And since it is difficult to hang curtains or shades in a constantly damp room, frosted glass is convenient.

So I wasn't overly surprised that my Japanese bathroom was completely outfitted in frosted glass. Inside the bath area, both walls with windows have frosted glass in them, inlaid with stars. There is a heavy sliding glass door between the bath and the sink area, and it is also frosted glass. More stars. The toilet is in a separate room with small square frosted glass windows that face the outside. Of course, these have stars in them too.

The door to the toilet has small 23 cm x 38 cm frosted window panes, in a flower pattern, no doubt for those who just would like an added touch of frost while on the toilet.

As for me, that would have been enough frosted glass for one house, but no. I am obviously not Japanese.

At the end of the hallway is a side door to the house in a metal frame that opens to the outside. The entire door from top to bottom is frosted glass — with an entire galaxy of stars imprinted on it.

Many Japanese-style houses have a sliding front door of frosted glass. Mine has swirly patterns in it, whereas my neighbor Kazu-chan's has stars. After you slide open the front door, you are in the genkan, or entranceway, a place to mentally prepare yourself for frosted glass inundation.

On the very top of my genkan door is a 30 cm wide panel of glass that is, guess what? Aha — Gotcha! Not frosted glass but clear glass! Being the only clear glass on the first floor, I can only guess that its function is so that you can, every now and then, check to see if the outside world is still there or to make sure that your house has not slid to a new location.

From the genkan, the first room you see is a tatami mat room separated by sliding doors like shoji doors except, instead of paper, these have glass panes inside them frosted from top to bottom in a pattern of little squares.

From the genkan you can also see the wooden door to the kitchen, with a 60 cm x 40 cm pane of frosted glass thrown in for good measure. This is merely a specimen to prepare you for the frosted glass zone inside the kitchen.

Inside the kitchen is a large 188 cm x 60 cm frosted glass window. The china cupboard has frosted glass sliding doors in it. The pantry doors also sport such glass. After all, you wouldn't want the cans of vegetables to be able to look out.

Another set of sliding frosted glass doors separates the kitchen from the living room. The tatami mat living room has two large picture windows 180 cm x 120 cm each that face the sea. These were, you guessed it, frosted glass! With stars! After all, there is an unlimited number of stars in the universe, so why not use them all?

Tired of the cloistered life, I have been replacing the frosted glass in our house little by little. When we remodeled the kitchen, we wanted to bring in as much natural light as possible so we ordered a large bay window to replace the more simple frosted glass one.

We also wanted to take advantage of the view from kitchen window which includes: the mountain, the mountain god's shrine, the Shiraishi Island pilgrimage path, and the ancient stone steps going up to Myoken-sama Shrine, all of which are within 10 meters of the window.

So you can imagine how surprised I was when the bay window arrived and I saw that the glass was f-f-f-f, oh I can't even say the f-word anymore!

It turns out that in Japan, if you don't specify you want clear glass, you won't get it, because clear glass is more expensive.



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