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  #21  
Old 07-04-2012, 09:17 PM
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Default Sad to say this is my life

This guy hit the nail on the head. And said to say this is my life also ..

A winter's tale: cold homes, poor lives in wealthy Japan.

The country is still rich, so why do the Japanese people live like they're not?

By GIANNI SIMONE

Question: What am I doing outside my home at 6 a.m. with a gas can, a pump, and stalactites under my nose?

Answer: I'm swearing.

I know, this is only half the answer, but at zero degrees Celsius my brain has the tendency to freeze up. Give me a minute to thaw out and I'll elaborate later . . .

According to some people, Japan is already living in the future. I beg to differ. While Japan is a technological giant and our rabbit-hutch houses are bursting with the latest electronic gadgets, the quality of life in this country could be much better if we enjoyed the same basic services people take for granted in the West. Even in Italy where I come from the seemingly never-ending recession rarely prevents many people from enjoying rather high living standards. After all, the average Italian lives in a well-built house, with plenty of space to stretch out and relax, and plenty of free time to actually enjoy it.

Japan, on the other hand, may still be the world's No. 3 economic power, but all too often its people seem to lead relatively poor lives, spending their whole day stressing out on the job, getting drunk afterwards, then going back to houses so small that the washing machine has to sit on the balcony or outside the front door.

Take house heating: In Italy, most houses have central heating; here, so-called "space heating" is the norm. This does not mean we are living in the Space Age, but rather the Stone Age.

Space heating or, as I prefer to call it, "tactical heating" entails warming up only the room where you spend most of the time i.e. the living room while leaving the rest of the house out in the cold. This, of course, cannot but cause some collateral damage, namely: 1) When you go to bed and slide under the ice-cold sheets, you suffer hypothermic shock and risk dying of exposure (anybody remember the movie "The Red Tent"?); and 2) When you have to answer the call of nature in the middle of the night, you have to haul on a coat.

Now you know why the Japanese had to invent the WC with a heated seat.

On the plus side, the entrance "hall" is so cold that it can be used (and, in many cases, is used) as a refrigerator to store fruit, vegetables and the like.

Tactical heating used to be organized around the infamous kotatsu, a piece of furniture that only the Japanese those masters of thrift and simplicity could have dreamt up.

As I'm sure most people know, a kotatsu is basically a low table with a small electric heater screwed to its underside and topped with a quilt. On cold winter evenings, denizens of the house would slip their legs under the table, cover their lower bodies with the quilt, and spend the night watching TV, eating tangerines and getting drunk. And, more often than not, someone would end up dozing off with their upper body exposed, only to wake up in the morning with nasal stalactites, a nasty cold and a throbbing head.

The kotatsu is still going strong among the Japanese (and those weird foreigners who either can't afford something better or have a mistaken idea of what "embracing Japan" actually means) but there are now trendier (though only slightly better) ways to keep warm.

Take the air conditioner, the weapon of choice for the majority of households in their battle against both the summer heat and winter chill. As well as consuming an awful lot of electricity, these devices are criminally inefficient in our barely insulated homes, turn our throats to sandpaper, and reduce those with dust allergies to sniveling wrecks.

Another popular heating tool among the horizontally inclined is the electric carpet, a seemingly innocuous beast that lulls its prey into a warm (probably drunk) torpor while lightly toasting them on one side with 130-160 milligauss of electromagnetic waves.

According to architectural adviser Keiji Ashizawa (interviewed on this subject by Japan Times columnist Jean Snow for ubertrendy website Neojaponisme), "Only in Hokkaido is there such a thing as the Law on Cold Residences, and the Government Housing Loan Corp. gives financial assistance to homes protected against the cold. They say that people from Hokkaido catch colds when they come to Tokyo, because they traditionally live in houses insulated and warmed through central heating."

For those who don't live in Hokkaido, the most effective piece of technology out there seems to be the kerosene heater which, if you think about it, is the sensible choice if you live in a highly inflammable wooden prefab house. Which brings me neatly back to my story . . .

So what the hell am I doing outside my home at six in the morning?

Why, I'm filling the gas can, of course!

"And why didn't you do it the day before?" I'm sure you will ask.
Alright, let's check the videotape . . .

22:00, the day before: The stove goes beep-beep and the magic number 50 flashes on the screen, which means there's only 50 minutes' worth of kerosene left. I've just come back home from work and I'm dead tired. So I look at the clock, look at my wife, then look at the stove and say: "Let's switch this off and use the electric stove, so we have enough fuel for tomorrow morning." The Boss says nothing, which means she doesn't despise my idea.

5:45, today: I'm woken up by the Boss screaming and railing against Buddha, Confucius and, especially, me.

"I told you to put the kerosene in!!!"

"???"

"Now only 10 minutes are left . . . You know this stove sometimes pulls such tricks."

"Bloody tricks!" says I.

"OK, you go back to sleep," says She. "I'll manage somehow. . ."

This is obviously a trap. I used to fall for it, but not anymore. As soon as I hear those words I jump out of bed, scramble to get dressed and head out to fill the gas can.

Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise . . . and stink of kerosene.

Not only does the Japanese house often fail to protect us from the cold, but the place itself can even be dangerous for our health and I'm not talking about earthquakes. Many buildings, in fact, are affected by so-called sick house syndrome. A "sick house" can trigger health problems such as allergies, atopic dermatitis and respiratory problems due to the emission of synthetic chemical materials (e.g. formaldehyde, asbestos) that until a few years ago were used liberally in construction.

Sick building syndrome, as it is also known, is not only a Japanese problem, but it seems that abroad the health hazards are mainly due to natural causes, such as mold, algae, bacteria, etc., while in Japan the problems tend to be man-made.

Another thing that leaves me scratching my head are those huge gas cylinders chained to the side of my house. As I live in Kanagawa, I don't enjoy the relative convenience of Tokyo Gas and have to rely on propane. This means that each family gets a couple of long, fat cylinders the moment they move into a new house.

These cylinders are literally chained to the wall, checked periodically and replaced once they run empty. The gas guy assured me they are safe, and that even if they exploded our house would not be damaged. Still, they look like a couple of bombs to me.

But what really left me speechless the first time I saw it was communal sewer cleaning. I'm sure (I hope) that the many of you lucky enough to live in less backward areas have never heard about it, but in some places (mine included) you are expected to join your neighbors once a year to get down and dirty in the local sewer. Not only is this a disgusting thing to have to do, but something surely stinks if all the local taxes we pay don't at least cover this most basic of services.

And how about uchimizu, the summer custom of sprinkling water in the street to cool the area? My friends back in Italy saw it on YouTube and asked me why they don't just go around with a tanker truck fitted with sprinklers.

Of course they missed its real meaning, the amused obāsan who lives near my house told me. Why, such customs as uchimizu and sewer cleaning bring out our national values, as they combine utilitarian, courteous and dutiful ends. Take that, you selfish gaijin!

Returning to heating, after years of trying to survive the Japanese winter I've found a couple of simple ways to keep my blood from freezing solid while deploying tactical heating in the home. The first is putting on several layers of clothes until I begin to resemble a less cute version of Bibendum, the Michelin Man. I usually opt for a T-shirt/wool underwear/pajama/tracksuit/hooded sweatshirt combo. Plus two pairs of socks, of course.

Another winner is putting an insulating sheet the one that looks like thick aluminum foil in your bed between the sheets and the mattress. That really works miracles, I guarantee.

Now I can finally enjoy reading in bed again although my hands still go numb after a while.

My favorite books recently are Antony Beevor's histories, especially "Stalingrad" and its sequel, "Berlin: The Downfall 1945." Reading about all those frostbitten soldiers crossing the steppes at 30 degrees below helps to convince me that here in Japan we don't have it so bad after all.

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  #22  
Old 07-04-2012, 10:31 PM
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Arrow Re: Makes you wonder!

Very interesting! I have used kerosene space heaters and many of them are made in Japan and some may have been developed there, such as the first ones I bought from Kero-Sun almost 35 years ago. They are very efficient and safe if used properly.

I am fortunate to have a large supply of dead wood on my 2.5 acre property and I have a good size woodstove that keeps most of my house comfortable. I also use an electric blanket and I've become used to dealing with some parts of my house being cold.

IMHO the obvious way to increase the comfort level and standard of living for individuals is to reduce per-capita expenditure on natural resources, particularly energy, by sharing resources and responsibility and expenses. I am a great fan of cooperative or communal living as are practiced in many intentional communities, which can be found on www.ic.org. I think it is also healthier for people to live and interact with many other individuals and families, but it does take a lot of individual commitment and acceptance of the resulting lifestyle.

But that's perhaps another topic that is quite a bit removed from electric vehicles, although the intent of reducing waste and improving efficiency and protecting our environment are prime motivators for EVs.

Thanks for a glimpse at some of the daily lives of people in another culture.
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  #23  
Old 07-05-2012, 01:32 AM
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Default Re: Makes you wonder!

Quote:
5:45, today: I'm woken up by the Boss screaming and railing against Buddha, Confucius and, especially, me.
Caught this while skimming over, and had to go back to read the whole thing.

LMAO!!

In this part of canada, houses are not even be built with 2x4 exterior walls anymore. Its not a structural issue but has to do with the amount of insulation needed to satisfy the "R" rating. Everything uses 2x6 exterior walls now. Newer standards will supposedly require builders to bridge the insulating gap caused by the studs themselves
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  #24  
Old 07-05-2012, 05:26 AM
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Tatsushige Tatsushige is offline
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Default Re: Makes you wonder!

I am lucky that I have city gas and do not need to join in cleaning sewers, so a little better off than the author of the above letter.

My place is about 70 years old and like the traditional Japanese houses

There is no insulation in the place I have at the moment, so in winter the walls have water on them because it is that cold that your breath hits the walls and turns to water.

The heater I have is a space heater that runs off the city gas, it heats up a room and if lucky a joining room, but walk in to the kitchen in winter and you turn blue in seconds, go to the toilet and you pass ice cubes.

The bedroom has a heater/cooler system which the heater system is as useless as tits on a bull.

The hot water system here in the apartment I am in now dates back to Edo I say and you would have better luck boiling a pot of water to bath then trying to use the shower. In winter showers are as fast as humanly possible if not you run the risk of dropping dead from hyperthermia and I am not joking.

Summer which we have now is the reverse. The heater/cooler system is only in the bedroom and can only cool the bedroom, you can leave the bedroom door open to try and cool the living room, but you have better luck buying a bucket of dry ice and have a fan running to cool the living room. At night you are sleeping and need to get up and leave the bedroom and walk in to the other rooms you are struck down with heat stroke and just about pass out.
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  #25  
Old 07-06-2012, 01:50 AM
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Default Re: Makes you wonder!

Wow, I guess Japan really is a country of contrasts. I wouldn't mind seeing more of the world but the more I learn about other places, the more I want to stay put. Not that its perfect here either, but I guess I'm just used to the vices we have to deal with.

In fairness, the first house I lived in as a kid was in Alberta, and there was no insulation in that place despite the -40C winters. Stucco walls on the inside and outside along with old growth timber frame meant that it could have probably suvived a zombie apocalypse, but it wasn't unusual to see frost on the inside in the dead of winter.

The open hearth fireplace kept the livingroom warm, but the draft was so strong that it would pull cold air into the house through gaps in the windows (single pane of course), door seals (LOL, what door seals!?), siding, gaps in the shake roof, etc. So the rest likely got slightly cooler no matter how hot the fire was.

That was over 20 years ago and the house likely has plenty of updates since then. Google street view confims its still standing. No idea when it was built but it was old when my parents bought it. Really old...
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