(Pictured: Last year's nad-shatterer)
This morning, as I stood in the stinging air outside my mountain home, I noticed a sight that filled my noble heart with terrible foreboding. I beheld upon a mountaintop not so far from me, a crown of crisp white snow, glistening in the morning sun. I immediately felt The Fear, because I know that when the mountain turns white, it signals the beginning of the end, the perpetual, ball-shrinking winter that lies ahead. I rolled my head back and moaned in dread, watching my breath come out in a cumulous white cloud of dragon-smoke.
“Zounds!” I said. “I’d better find some way to keep warm.”
Winter. Japanese winter. That bone-chilling wind coming down from Siberia while the planet tilts us mockingly away from the sun. Will we ever be saved? Can I survive another winter here? Last winter, I took a mulligan on the season and pissed off to South East Asia for a month, but this year I’m out of nenkyu – I’m in for the duration, I’m afraid. A prisoner of this season’s bone-chilling grip.
Truly, my sainted home is not the most well-designed building in the world. A dirty block of concrete, laid like a steaming architectural turd sometime in the 1970s, it has no insulation of any kind, and as such heats up in summertime like a bread oven, and in wintertime acts as a large fridge – indeed sometimes it is actually warmer outside than in. It makes one wonder why the Japanese have never really embraced the central heating system. Today, it’s still a relatively rare thing in most parts of the country, yet in Korea they’ve had the ondol system (traditional central heating which pumps the house full of warm air through pipes) since the middle ages. Enough to make you ponder why the Japanese haven’t taken a leaf out of their book.
The Koreans have a number of other ways of staying warm that we would do well to remember. My Japanese comrade swears blind that the primary method that the Koreans use to keep cool is the consumption of vast quantities of blood-warming kimchi. Having tested this method out myself I can state categorically that this is a falsehood. Whatever else kimchi may be good for, stopping the human body from succumbing to exposure is not one of them. At best all it will do is give you a bit of a sore mouth and force you to take a drink thereby rendering all cold-related complaints secondary for a limited period of time. And even then only if you are a pussy who can’t take spicy food. Or if your idea of hot is eating an umeboshi. I got news for you Jack, just because it tastes like you’re licking an electrical socket doesn’t mean it’s hot. In reality it’s just a little bit sour. But I digress. While I recommend a hearty portion of Kimchi for consumption every day, this particular doctor urges you to seek other means of keeping oneself warm.
Probably the most popular way in Japan of staving away the Devil’s frozen fingers is by utilizing the kerosene heater. While these do actually heat your place they are unbearably expensive to run, require constant refueling (who else here has only just lain down after prayer for a nights Godly rest when the whirring of the heater’s fan stops and in an instant the room is deathly cold? Who else has had to take a walk to the landing late at night to obtain fresh kerosene? All of you, that’s who, you wretches!) they stink to high heaven, and on top of that they kill you. Yes, yes, that is right. The carbon monoxide fumes given off by said contraptions actually have quite a respectable bodycount to their name. Every year all across Japan people go to sleep with the heater on and just don’t wake up. If that’s not a reason to get an ondol or some other form of central heating I don’t know what is.
What will perhaps put you in better stead for the winter will be to get some decent winter threads – perhaps an anorak of at least three-quarter length, like the PE teacher in your local high school wears as he mercilessly drives a class of shivering, be-shorted 15 year olds around the track savagely berating them. Stick some of those hot pads in the inside pockets – slambango! Instant mobile sauna inside your clothes.
Bear in mind that the only place colder than a Japanese apartment is a Japanese school, and if you work at one – which a significant proportion of you probably do – be prepared at all times to wear your scarf and gloves indoors. Sometimes you might ask yourself why they don’t heat the place. It’s probably for the same reason that they don’t put the air conditioning on in summer. The teachers like to suffer. Why do you think they stay at work so late? Well, at least you are safe in the knowledge that any school so cold that you can see your breath in the middle of the afternoon would be closed as some kind of health hazard in any western country, and the teachers who forced students to study in there in those temperatures would be denounced as sadistic criminals and moral destitutes. Hey, it could be worse. You could be wearing a miniskirt. Like 50% of your students.
The same Japanese friend who offered me kimchi as a solution was also quick to recommend onsening. While the onsen process does stave away the cold, I would be loathe to recommend it for the following reasons: while it might be fun to sit in a warm pool of water and laugh at the snowflakes falling ineffectually around you, the actual transit to and from the water is sack-shatteringly painful. And if there are people around you, you’d better get prepared for shrinkage, because that sucker is going to retract. Men, protect your dignity!
For a temporary solution to the cold, what could be better than booze? Tried and tested for centuries by such diverse groups as Russians, the Irish and of course the Scots, a group of which I am fortunate enough to count myself as a member. The consumption of a bottle of brown liquor anesthetizes the senses to the extent that one could go to sleep naked on a wind-swept moor on the coldest night of the year. And I should know. If you want my opinion, the best way to keep warm is to stay drunk from early November to mid-March. Booze is the perfect substitute for Christmas cheer.
Well, the kerosene is out now, and stinking up my apartment like a dead dog in a shoebox, and day by day the white menace creeps further down the mountain. It’ll only be a matter of time before the snow starts falling and I am forced to start burning old copies of the Daily Yomuiri. This is an evil day. Good-bye sunlight! I pray that I will see you again. If you don’t hear from me by April, send an ambulance with a snowplow my way. Tell them to look for a frozen punk.