Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Keeping warm

Yesterday Mart Bright commented about the cat in my picture.

"Is that a cat on top of a printer, or some other piece of electronics?? Honestly, these people who let their cats get on everything. I just don't understand them... Hee hee"

Mart has 7 or 8 cats of her own (her cat population changes) so I know she is teasing me. Actually there were two cats in yesterday's picture but I think she was referring to Patora who was sitting on top of the kerosene stove. (I know, this would usually be called a room heater but in Japan we call it a stove). The stove is a favorite spot for all the cats and during this season one or the other of the cats is usually sitting there. Looking at past posts I see that we bought the stove in January of this year but already it is dented on the top because of cat weight! Someone besides me needs to go on a diet!

I don't like kerosene stoves at all but it is what I've lived with for the past 30 years and will probably have to live with for the next 30. This is fairly typical of Japanese homes and everyone has these little room heaters that have a small tank that can be filled with kerosene. The heaters are actually electric and they have a fan that blows the heated air into the room and keeps the heater itself from getting too hot, that's why the cats are able to sit on it.

When I first came to Japan everyone used kerosene heaters that had a grill on top (non-electric) and one could place a kettle on there so that there would be hot water for the every present green tea that Japanese drink. It was very handy for putting a soup on to simmer or for grilling a quick rice ball or sweet potato. In the evenings the metal hot water bottles could be placed directly on the grill and the beds could be warmed before bed. There were dangers however when children bumped into the stove and were badly burned (Tetsu has a horrid scar from an experience with a stove when he was only two). Often the stove was placed in a play pen like gadget to keep animals and children safe. The kerosene stove has played a major role in Japanese culture. (Picture of the old style stove from the Internet.)

But maybe the reasons for not liking them are obvious. The tanks have to be filled about every other day which means that kerosene has to be bought and kept someplace on the back step. Sometimes I make the trek to the gasoline station myself but it seems foolish to me to be hauling around very flammable tanks of kerosene in the trunk of my car. Sometimes we have the kerosene delivered but that costs quite a bit more. Getting the kerosene into the stove tank has been made easier by a hand held battery run pump (someone once suggested that this looked like a bovine enema contraption!) but still it is a messy business and bad on the back. And think of all the fumes that we breathe in all winter long! The heater makes little chirping sounds every hour or so telling humans to open the windows to get fresh air into the room but of course fresh air means icy air and there we are trying not to shiver while the room heats up again.

I augment my room heaters (I have two) with a small heated carpet under my dining room table and a heated cushion that Velvet has adopted. Besides that we run from icy room to icy room (no heating in the bathroom!) and though I can't sit on the stove like the cats, I strip down and change clothes in front of it every morning!



Amanda said...

How unexpected! Japan is so advanced technologically that you would expect a much better heating system in the houses. This takes me back to when I was young, before we had central heating, when it was my job to go outside every day, sometimes two or three times a day, to fill the coal scuttle for our open fire. We had just the one fire in the lounge, and a paraffin heater in the dining room (my father dealt with that). I perfected the art of getting dressed in bed during the winter!

Shasta said...

okay, I can stop complaining about the cold in my house! The newer energy efficient furnaces tend to have strong fans, and somehow it feels like they are cooling the air when as they blow the heated air out. The air from my old furnace felt hotter, but there would be a 10 degree temperature difference between when it would start to heat the air and when it stopped.

When I get cold, I slow down, and sometimes it takes me a while to realize that I am cold!

andsewitis Holly said...

Ah, that brings back memories. We had one of those older style kerosine heaters and it was really efficient in heating up a single room. I remember leaving my leather gloves on top once and falling asleep next to the heater only to be woken up by the apartment building's smoke alarm. My apartment was filled with the smoke and stench of melted leather - haha. Since dh was out to sea all the time, I was the one who fetched the kerosine. We brought the heater back with us to the U.S. but years later sold it at a garage sale. We were just saying this year how we wished we still had it... We still have the plastic jug that we bought and stored the kerosine in. Great post!

Chocolate Cat said...

Isn't amazing that something as simple as heating can be different from country to country. I couldn't survive without my 'electric blanket' in my bed during winter!

Katie said...

Very interesting. Love the looks of those blankets. How cold does it get at night? Why wouldn't you use electric heaters? Too expensive? Do you have smoke and CO2 alarms? What fuel is used in your cooking range/stove? Cats always know where the warmest place is.