Keeping work spaces warm in Japan

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This week it finally got to the point of being pretty cold. This is the point where all my family and friends in Michigan will start complaining that it’s a lot colder back home. Yes I know. Yes it is.

The difference, however, is that while it is quite a bit colder in Michigan and other places in the United States you people have the luxury of insulation and central heating. In Japan, this is a very uncommon occurrence. Only places like the Northern tip of Honshu (that’s the main island) and the northern island of Hokkaido seem to have it. This is mostly because the climate is much more similar to the good old frozen north I grew up with. Further south in the country, it doesn’t matter if the building you’re talking about is an apartment, school, or possibly even an office building. There is little to no insulation. The walls are more than likely concrete. The windows are single paned, plentiful, and often open (even in the bathrooms). Many schools are made up of two larger buildings connected by corridors. These corridors are generally completely open to the elements.

So, by now I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m not sitting here in four layers of clothing, and I’m not. This lovely contraption is my space heater.

As you can see, it hooks into the gas line building into the wall. When you come in in the morning you turn on the gas (don’t forget to turn it off before you go).

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Then there are two knobs. Once you turn them past a certain point, a sparker clicks and sets the gas alight. After that, you have to turn past just a little bit. There’s one more click, and if you do it right when you release it the flame stays on. Yes, that’s right. I heat my workroom at school with an open flame, all be it a controlled one. My favorite part about the whole open flame thing is that everyone seems to just leave them on while they are away at class even if there isn’t anyone else in the room. I personally turn mine off. I don’t want to be that foreigner that burned the school down.

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There are two ceramic panels that suck up the heat and radiate glorious warmth into the room. Of course making your room nice and toasty makes it just that much more difficult to go back outside. I’ve learned to look forward to teaching class on the fifth floor. It’s usually pretty warm up there since, you know, heat rises and stuff. Also the first floor faculty bathroom is now my bathroom of choice because of the heated toilet seat. Yes, that’s another topic I’ll discuss later.

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