I am bemused by the way winter is perceived in the not so cold parts of Japan. Sometimes I feel like an alien who landed on a planet where I admittedly recognize the climate of my home planet but where the concept of seasons and what they mean seem to follow a different set of logic and accompanied by a different set of rules of conduct. When watching the weather forecast on TV the other day, trying to listen to what they were saying, I got the impression that the next day would be so cold, I really need to wear both long johns and a down jacket, I remember thinking. At least. Then I looked at the temperature forecast and realized that tomorrow will be a mild Swedish autumn day.
Next day comes and I do what I normally do a Swedish autumn day – wear what I think will be enough clothes which includes a warm jacket, a hat that covers the ears and warm socks. I expect to meet other people wearing much more clothes than I do (since it is supposed to be so extremely cold now for the people on this Japan planet) – those people do exist but what was so surprising was to see children playing in the playground wearing short pants. What! Did their parents not watch the weather forecast yesterday? It is supposed to be extremely cold today, and one kid is bare feet!
The wind was indeed a bit cold so I put on my gloves as well, at the same time as school girls came riding by on their bikes wearing school uniforms, meaning big scarfs, short skirts and no stockings, just short socks. Considering the extensive use of one glass windows here, which means a generally colder indoor climate than I am used to in Sweden, I wonder how in the world they can call today cold when nobody seems to be freezing…
Talking to my wife a bout this, I got an insight into how it works (at least how it was for my wife). My wife is almost never cold; when I wear undershirt, a sweater and a jacket, my wife often only wears one layer. Still she gets my question, remembering when she was in middle high school and the cold winters when everyone was wearing short skirts and the classrooms were cold. I was freezing all the time. Why did you wear short skirts, I asked – was it required. She wants to remember that there were some girls who occasionally wore stockings, but most of the girls were bare legged and so my wife was too. That’s just the way it was – silly school girls. That’s the way it still is, it seems…
Another aspect of winter in Japan is the many ways to make small spaces warm; a kind of localized heater culture that is blooming here (one glass windows would seem to encourage that I think). One example is the kotatsu, the table with a quilt used as a big table cloth that is placed between the table surface and the table legs. The table has a heater underneath so when sitting at the kotatsu, putting the legs under the quilt, the legs and feet get very warm and cozy – oh how I love the kotatsu (it even makes me sympathize with the use of one glass windows – if it is warm inside the kotatsu kind of looses it’s raison d’être).
The hand warmers sold everywhere is another localized heating contraption; a small pachet of chemicals that when activated becomes hot and for example warms the hand inside a glove. Or as in my wife’s case when she was a teenager – she sometimes taped the hand warmers to her legs under the short skirt to keep warm during coldish winter days. To me it feels a bit (or I should say a lot) like waste of energy, but then again, I am an alien that does not understand the Japanese concept of winter. Maybe I need to go out in shorts myself one day, with hand warmers taped to my legs and pretend to not freeze – then maybe I will finally understand what winter is all about here.
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