Wednesday, January 23, 2013

So, winter in Japan ...

Snow blasted trees in Kumamoto
Due to abandoning my old, frosty ice fortress of an apartment last year, just after the worst of the winter had, had its way with me, I have been bubble-wrap free since April 03. You see winter in Japan is a war waged with warm little bags of magic metal, kerosene heaters and if you do not enjoy Jack Frost nipping at your nuggets, bubble wrapped windows.

So how does a chilly G.I Joe or Jane protect him or herself against the onslaught of Japanese winter, I hear you ask. I realize that you folks back in Sunny South Africa are reading this post with frowns on your foreheads while you wonder why I am not just putting on a warm jacket and maybe if things are really bad, switching on the little heater covered in dust due to lack of use. This is not sunny South Africa; this is snowy, ice-rainy, below zero, poorly insulated Japan. Some of our doors are made of paper for crying in a frozen bucket. 

But, while nobody really wins this war, most of us escape with our lives and this is how we fight the good fight.

Get your onsen on!

While I have thawed many a toe in the warm onsen waters all over Oita, this last weekend I was lucky enough to try something new. Most of my onsen experiences have been at the cheaper public baths where you either wear a swimming costume and share the mineral rich waters with both boys and girls or you birthday suit up with members of the same sex. My last encounter of the warm water kind saw me relaxing all by myself in one of the `family` baths where you can either have the place to yourself or invite your nearest and dearest, well the ones you care to see naked anyway. Not only did my beautiful rocky pool come with an outside shower, sauna and kickass kabosu (type of lime) body wash but a steaming hot waterfall filled my natural stone bath. Yeah, as far as scrubbing up is concerned, it does not get any better than a Japanese onsen.   
Not so private bath

Private bath

Surrender to the nerdy side.

Now I realize that not all of you out there are as, shall we say, enthusiastic about nerdy or geeky things as my partner in crime and I are, but hear me out. While some of you know your way around a ski slope or snowboard, I was not blessed with the ability to do anything other than hit the ice, face first whenever I even look at skate or sled, so my options tend to turn more towards indoor activities. My advice to anyone thinking of braving the Japanese winter on a long term basis is to don your fluffy Jedi robe, crank up the kerosene heater or crawl under the kotatsu with a few good friends and start playing some board games. There is nothing quite like getting your ass owned at some cards against humanity or Geek-challenge or even some weird zombie game that I still need to get the hang of. Roland and I even managed to win a bottle of champagne for riding a particularly knowledgeable friend`s coattails all the way to geek trivia victory at our local bar. If you prefer to Han Solo it up, the Japanese speed demon internet can also provide you with many hours of mining metals in a good MMO, fighting some foes on X-box live or even just watching some quality shows on Japanese Hulu. All in all I give gaming with some good friends a solid 10 out of 10.       

Buy anything that emits heat.

As I am typing this I am wearing heattech clothing (a type of undershirt or leggings that were designed to keep you toasty), I have two kairo on my person (a little bag of….um…magic, that starts warming up the minute you take it out of its plastic wrapper and last for about 20 hours) and I am breathing in the fine fumes given off by my kerosene heater because it is cheaper than using electricity. I eat hot pots called nabe and while I do not have a kotatsu (table with a heating element and duvet) to snuggle under, I spend many an hour under my electric blanket.

While I am by no means a veteran of Japanese winter I feel it my duty to warn any new teachers thinking of heading to the land of the not so warm sun, that while you are going to cry at least once over having to face your freezing shower room or find your teeth chattering as you try to teach in a classroom devoid of any heat, there will also be crisp white Christmases, warm ramen with friends and if you are lucky, soaking in an open air onsen as steam rises from your fingers and snow collects in your hair.

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