Monday, December 12, 2011

Heat Seeking

"Beep, beep, beep, beep," the carbon monoxide alarm sounded this morning, a diifferent sound and earlier rising time than my routine. Yesterday, having had enough of my fifty degree house, I borrowed two loaner kerosene heaters from the base. With a tank full of kerosene and a new hand pump to fill the heaters's tanks, I fired them up under the supervision of the munsters. Kerosene heaters are used to heat their classrooms at shogakko. Ah, radiant heat! Twas fabulous. With the screeching alarm though, my husband opened the windows to the morning air, leaving me cold, colder than before the heaters.

The Japanese heat pumps mounted to a wall in every room provide either cool or warm air, but blowing air doesn't feel warm, and with monthly electricity bills averaging five hundred dollars in winter it seems inefficient as well. There is a reason for double paned windows and insulation. The Japanese deal with the cold by spot heating- heat spots such as "hot" carpets that work like electric blankets or small heaters mounted under a table covered with a thick blanket called a kotatsu, keep everyone tethered to the heat source. Other forms of spot heating include heated toilet seats and hot water bottles.

I have a hanten that I wear around the house; it is the Japanese version of a housecoat or bathrobe except that it is padded and thick almost like a winter jacket. I once wore mine to the yochien bus stop. All of the mamas commented on my hanten. My husband laughed saying, "Well, what would you say if a mama came to the bus stop in the States wearing a bathrobe!" I didn't do it again.

Warm houses are not the norm here. At a recent lunch party a Japanese mama said, "I hear that in the United States you have central heating. What is that like?" "Warm!" I gushed. The mamas couldn't fathom the idea of having electricity or heat running all of the time. I tried to explain that heating and cooling an insulated house is cheaper and more comfortable than the spot heating that is most often done here. There was some head shaking and disbelief as they tried to imagine this concept. I couldn't blame them, it would have never occurred to me to live with spot heating.

The English paper I peruse here had a headline saying that the Japanese government will give tax breaks for 'eco' homeowners.
As for other tax cuts, the outline calls for introducing a tax break on bank loans for people who purchase homes meeting government-set energy efficiency levels. Under the tax break, an owner of an energy-efficient home newly built in 2012 will have 4 million yen deducted from his or her income tax.
The Yomiuri Shimbun
As I sit in my cold house here and plan the remodeling of our house in the States, I can only think of double paned windows, insulation, central heat, and fire. I can't wait to have a fireplace!

Our future fireplace- for next winter