It’s winter in Japan as of right now.
And while it’s certainly no polar vortex, it’s still cold. Going outside doesn’t involve getting dressed like you’re about to climb Mt. Everest, but for someone who has never been to Japan during the colder months (such as myself), it may be a slightly unpleasant surprise to find that central heating is not that popular. In fact, good luck trying to find a home that has it. Most homes use space heating methods that normally heat the most popular/populated room in the house.
In that case, that would be the main room/bedroom of this (my) apartment.
After brief research, it seems to be that most Japanese homes, schools, buildings, etc. don’t have the insulated walls that many foreigners are used to and often times have windows with single-pane glass (source).
There are some exceptions of course. The more up north you go (up to Hokkaido), you’ll see that many homes and buildings have central heating (or are even required to have). Some bigger, department-like stores across Japan do have central heating (most likely to make patrons comfortable) as well as office buildings. Makes sense. I wouldn’t get squat done at work if I were cold.
The above source brought up some excellent points as to why space heating is the preferred method of heating. For one, it’s cheaper. It makes sense to only heat the rooms used the most instead of ALL of the rooms that might only be used occasionally or very rarely at all. You’re wasting money on heating the entirety of the home as opposed to the most popular rooms.
Unless you live in Hokkaido, you’re more likely to experience shorter winters in Japan, especially in the central Japan/Tokyo area (where I reside). Why even bother installing, up-keeping and ultimately paying for something you’ll use very rarely? I don’t think Japan will be experiencing an extended polar vortex anytime soon.
However, the best reason should be considered the sense of community– getting everyone together to spend time in one room of the home and enjoy each other’s company. It gives people an excuse to come over,
“You have your kotatsu on?! I’m coming over~!”
Bam. Instant quality time with loved ones created.
A popular method of space heating is the use of kotatsu, low-to-the-ground tables with a blanket/futon draped over (making it look like a bed skirt). On the underside of the table is heater you turn on by simply plugging it into the wall. Grab some pillows if you’d like, scoot your bum underneath the blanket and you’re instantly in heaven.
I have no idea why these haven’t caught on in the US.
[Oh wait, we use central heating]
Among the odds and ends that came in my apartment, a small kotatsu was one of them. While I don’t have an extra futon or really warm, thick blankets, my princess fleece and pink sleeping bag get the job done.
[Cinderella is watching you…]
It’s a beautiful thing; coming home from difficult language classes, in the snow/slush and turning that baby on and getting cozy with some homework. I actually can’t work for too long under my kotatsu or I’ll fall asleep (has happened, even with company in the room).
But really, as much as I enjoy my kotatsu by myself, I love sharing moments with friends under one.
Being abroad for the first time is difficult, but sharing some good food and drinks with some excellent friends (new and old) is the perfect way to ease into the new atmosphere.
We did nearly everything together under the kotatsu. Rolled the sushi, warmed the sake (using the space heater a few feet away), told jokes, shared stories, and (for me at least) nearly fell asleep.
It didn’t matter when over 10 people were all in the same room together. We all fit. In fact, it made the room warmer. When our feet accidentally bumped against each other, no one was shocked or embarrassed (FOOTSIE!), it was expected. Some people left their feet hidden under the vast amounts of quilts and laid down for a snooze on the tatami mats. If someone had to leave the room, they made it quick because they wanted to return. Because it was warm? Maybe. But it was mostly like to return to the community of friends spending time together.
It was a lovely experience. I had been in the country for no more than 48 hours and something inside told me that this place had already turned into a second home. This special type of community I thought I could only experience back home was right in front of me. I recommend to anyone visiting Japan to scrap up a few friends in the winter months and have a few drinks under a kotatsu.
Today, I celebrate my 1 week arrival… under a warm kotatsu. Thank you everyone for all of the well wishes! I promise to respond to emails properly soon.
Much love always,