Tuesday, November 06, 2007


Our part of Japan is getting colder and I've started changing over clothes to our winter wear, bringing out the heavy futon and buying kerosene for our stove.

Yes, our house is heated by kerosene. I've never been too happy with the situation but our house is about 17 years old and doesn't have the fancier heating systems. Actually 17 years old doesn't seem to be so old to me and I know my brother's home in the States has central heating even though it is over 50 years old but anyway, Tetsu and I heat our home by kerosene. When I say, heat our home, I mean, heat each room separately by a portable kerosene stove or two. I either buy kerosene at the gasoline station or have it delivered and put in large 20 liter tanks and then fill the stove tanks by pump. This is a somewhat messy job what with opening the tank, getting the pump to work and then putting the tank back into the stove. The stove's tank of kerosene in the winter will last maybe two days and the process is repeated.

No central heating means that only the room that is being used at the moment is ever warm and let me tell you, the bathrooms and bedrooms are freezing in the winter! Some families put small electric heaters in their bathrooms just to heat the air before you get undressed for a bath, but Tetsu and I brave it (no room for a heater anyway.) I'll let you know when I start wearing a hat and gloves to bed! Some of the newer homes have centrally heated homes with heated floors which I covet but I'm afraid I'm never going to have that luxury as long as this house is standing.

Traditionally, houses in Japan were heated by wood burning stove and I have a memory of attending church and watching the pastor's wife put firewood into the potbellied stove throughout the worship services. However, the most common way for families to stay warm is to sit around a kotatsu in the winter time. A kotatsu is a low table with a heating element attached to the bottom and then heavy futon are spread on top to keep the warmth trapped inside. This means your feet and lower body are warm but the rest of you is sitting out in the cold. When I came to Japan as a college student I stayed in a home where the only heat was the kotatsu. I can still remember huddled in the kotatsu, fairly cozy, and being able to see my breath in the room! Nowadays families will use a combination of kotatsu and other heat. We don't have a kotatsu in our house because our living room is so narrow we wouldn't be able to walk around without stumbling over the futon, though I'm sure Tetsu misses it.

Yesterday, I visited my neighbor and took a picture of her kotatsu which is very nice because it is actually a hole in the floor and the heating element is at the bottom of the hole. This means you don't have to sit on your knees and can sit just like you would around any table. You'll notice Mrs. Yano's cat is down there under the table because it loves the kotatsu's warmth. In fact there is a song in Japan about cats who typically hide out in the warm kotatsu!
"And the cat is curled in a ball inside the kotatsu~~~~!" la-la-la-la~


CONNIE W said...

After reading your post I feel very spoiled having central heat that I can adjust to whatever temperature is desired. Since I am so cold-natured I am sure I would most likely be wearing wool socks and warm & toasty clothing during the cold weather.

anne bebbington said...

In the west we certainly take central heating for granted. This post reminded me of when I used to live in a 250yr old cottage in the woods with my former partner. The doors fitted where they touched so draughts and sometimes mice would venture in and as our central heating system was at best lukewarm we had an open log fire as our main source of heat in the living room. I vividly remember that feeling of red hot on my one side and distinctively chilly down my other side as I sat side on next to the fire and moved chairs regularly to even out the burn/chill factor. New houses like ours now might be flimsier than their older neighbours but modern building methods with efficient insulation and draughtproofing have a lot to be said for them

Clare said...

No heating here either. Just 2 X 10kw wood burners and gas bottle heaters in the bedrooms and bathroom. Somehow we still stay cosy, but it is freezing in the kitchen today.

andsewitis Holly said...

I remember heating our little apartment with a kerosine heater. I almost set the apartment house on fire by carelessly leaving my leather gloves on top while it was on! LOL Sure gave papa-san a scare. We took the train all the way to Yokohama to buy the heater. We undoubtedly could have found one locally but what did we know (dumb foreigners). Before the heater we stayed warm by using a hair blow dryer under the covers. Thanks for the memories.

Lazy Gal Tonya said...

oh geeze, I'd be in real trouble. brrr. Think I'd be living hiding out with the warm kitty!

meggie said...

As always, a very interesting post.
With all the wonderful technical adances from Japan, it seems odd to think they have not done more for domestic comfort!

Shelina said...

Oh my, I have central heating, and still wind up complaining because the fan is so strong that it seems to blow cold air, but somehow keeps the place warm. I also have a portable electric heater and blanket that I generally keep in the family room for when I am sitting around and feeling more cold.
I definitely have no room to complain. I remember how drafty the rooms were when I had space heater apartment (2 heaters for the whole place), but even that was gas, so I didn't have to fill them or do anything to them.
I too am amazed that a 17 year old house wouldn't have more domestic comfort! How cold does it get there?

Helen said...

This post certainly brought back childhood memories for me. We used to have two portable kerosine heaters when I was a child. The were run from 2 gallon glass bottles that had to be put in the back upside down, a very dangerous procedure if the kerosine spilled! Wouldn't be allowed nowadays. The kerosine bottles were exactly the same as the ones beer used to come in and that also posed danger, getting the two mixed up, putting beer in a kerosine bottle was not a good idea. The two heaters were used in the lounge and the kitchen, never in the bedrooms. Even nowadays most NZ'ers don't heat bedrooms as a general rule. Maybe for a newborn baby in winter. We keep warm in bed with electric blankets that go on top of the mattress and underneath the bottom sheet. Heat pumps are very popular in new houses (like air conditioning but they blow hot air in winter and cool in summer).

Thank you for telling me about the kotatsu. I now know why my old Ondori patchwork books from Japan had patterns for square quilts on top of the low square tables. They weren't just for decoration.