Getting cold

I’ll just be moaning in this one. Don’t read if you’re already feeling down. Or maybe it makes you happy to hear about other people being down as well.

Remember how last Sunday I wrote winter was coming? Well on Monday it snowed. Quite a bit. Same on Tuesday. Admittedly pretty much everything melt down during daytime and on Thursday –I think- it rained a lot and it’s nowhere near freezing anymore. Still I think you can say winter is here. At least it’s cold. And that’s where the fun starts.

Usually winter is one of my favourite seasons (aren’t many to pick from though). While in summer you’ll get cooked no matter what you do (unless you’re lucky and have an AC that is) winter gives you the perfect excuse to stay inside because that’s what everyone does to keep warm. Apparently not so much in Japan.

While trying to figure out how my heater works I stumbled across these two: “On heating an apartment in Japan” which starts with “Japan does not believe in warmth without risk.” and “How to cut out home heating oil – Japanese style”  which basically ends up talking about how the philosophy of Gaman –endure, tolerate- is oh so great. I’d recommend you read both of them. Not only because they’re quite interesting but also because I’ll assume that you did, so if anything from here doesn’t make any sense it’s your fault. Now go read and then come back.

Sounds like fun right?
The heating method that sounds best to me is a kotatsu. I don’t really do anything besides sitting at my desk when I’m not sleeping so why not sit at a kotatsu? Well, shamefully there’s no space for that.

But luckily the apartment already came with a built-in heater which runs on gas directly coming from the wall into the machine which spits the fumes back into the wall. Leaving you with a warm and clean aired room. Or so the idea. I couldn’t really find anything helpful on how to use it; I do however recognize the “ON” sign.


So many “I’m Feeling Lucky” buttons

First time I pressed it the machine made noises and smelled really bad. Yay. So I turned it off again. Or at least tried to because it wouldn’t stop. (Did I mention that it looks quite old as well and the heater of my classmate next door –so presumably the same type- just needed to be repaired?)

After a while though it didn’t smell that much anymore, there actually was some warm air coming out and then finally it seemingly turned itself off altogether – at least as far as you can judge by sound. Later I tried it again and while it didn’t smell as horrible as the first time it also didn’t heat up at all. So either I am doing something wrong or it’s broken. Both seem equally likely to me. I’ll have to survive another day without heating before I can ask about that tomorrow. (On a side not: I’m pretty sure the smell isn’t gas or fume but just old dust and stuff. Not lethal, still ew.)

Presuming that I can actually make it work somehow we’re still left with smell and noise. Not something I’d like to have on while trying to sleep (or in general really). “But why don’t you just turn it off during night?” First: Waking up in a freezing room makes getting up even harder and second: I can’t because of freezing water pipes.

This week all students who live in apartments had to attend an” Explanation for preventing water pipe freezing”. Whenever temperature drops below -4°C and we won’t use any water for a few hours (eg. over night) we have to drain all water pipes to prevent them from freezing. Wikipedia states the daily mean for January and February being -3.6°C and -3.1°C the average low from December to February between -4.1°C and -7°C. So at least in those three months that means a lot of water going down the drain for nothing. I seem to be located in a slightly better insulated building, where draining is only required if pipes remain unused for a period of two days or longer (if I got that right). As long as the room is well heated all the time.

But why should those pipes freeze at all just because they’re not used for a while? Because insulation is more or less non-existent. (Although you already know that because you read the two articles, right?) I can’t tell you anything about how thick the walls are but I can tell you that the bathroom curtain is blowing in the wind all the time. Did my best to fill the cracks with foam tape but that didn’t help much. I also doubt that the other window is closing completely tightly.

As mentioned in my first post, Hokkaido in winter gets really cold. It has always been that way (at least as long as humans live here) and it will probably stay that way a bit longer. Heck, Hokkaido and especially Sapporo is famous for its winter! So why don’t people built their homes according to the climate? I totally understand that you might want to spend less money on insulation or central heating if you live somewhere where it just rarely ever gets that cold. But in Sapporo it’s winter for almost half a year and you’ll soon spend all that money you saved earlier on bubble wrap to tape your single-paned windows with, dozens of heaters plus electricity/gas/oil, loads of drained water and whatnot. And you’ll probably still be cold. I don’t really buy the argument that it’s cheaper to tear down. Not that I know anything about destruction prices but it can’t be much more than all the wasted money accumulated over the years, right? Oh well, but it’s the tenant who has to pay for all the stuff, not the owner. That’s it.

So I got a 2.5 liter hot water bottle, taped the windows with all kinds of things, built a duvet fort, keep myself wrapped in a blanket all day, drink exclusively hot ginger water or spiced “coffee” and always have my laptop next to me because the internet is a place full of lovely people which makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

I’ll leave you with a few more links on winter in Japan, in case you as well need some inspiration on how to stay toasty:

Keeping Warm in the Winter, Japan-Style

Surviving In Japan:
(Which by the way is another really helpful page that saved me a couple of times. If you ever consider coming to Japan remember that one!)
8 ways to winterize your Japanese apartment (or house)
24 ways to Stay Warm in Japan This Winter


Okurayama Ski Jump Stadium

Yesterday a few friends from school and I decided to visit the Okurayama Ski Jump Stadium. On Friday it rained awfully but we were lucky and had lovely sunshine although it was quite cold. Winter’s coming!


Next to the other ski jump

We started walking at Maruyama Station and it took us about one hour. ‘Though you could probably do it in half an hour if don’t mistake any of the other jumps for the Okura one and wonder where the people you wanted to meet with are ^^ And maybe walk a little faster than we did. Or maybe you shouldn’t because it would be a pity. You walk through rather small neighbourhoods (compared to the rest of Sapporo) and forests and because you walk up the view gets better and better. It also gets colder. On Friday some students said they’ve spotted the first snow and yes, there it was.

Okura Ski Jump

The Okura Ski Jump

At the ski jump there’s the Sapporo Winter Sports Museum but we didn’t go there. Instead we took the lift up and enjoyed the view, tea or ice cream (because apparently it wasn’t cold enough for some of us…). Unfortunately we couldn’t wait until it was dark because at night the town surely looks amazing.


That mountain’s called Triangle Mountain

I also pieced together a video from the lift ride, enjoy!


One month in…

Before we start, a few facts about Japan and Sapporo: Japan is made up of 4 major and a couple of minor islands and is located in the northern hemisphere. This means that if it’s summer in Europe, North- and Central America, Asia and some parts of Africa it’s also summer in Japan. Shouldn’t be too surprising because Japan is Asian. Sapporo is the biggest city of the northernmost major island, Hokkaido, and it’s the fifth biggest city of Japan with roughly two million inhabitants, ten thousand of them being foreign residents. Winters are cold and snowy. Like really cold and snowy. People drive on the opposite of the right side of the street. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether that means wrong or left.

The language spoken is Japanese which is as related to Chinese just as much as English is to Greek. There are four different types of writing used: Roman letters ‘though these are few and far between and usually limited to brand names and abbreviations such as USB or CD. Then there’s Hiragana and Katakana two syllabaries each consisting of 46 characters. Hiragana looks like squiggle on paper by monkeys and is used in most cases, Katakana is less curvy and is used to write foreign words, onomatopoeia and to make things look more interesting. Reading is exactly the same but why have just one alphabet when you can have two?

And then we have Kanji. These are characters stolen from China and with them their reading. Each of them has at least one meaning and one reading. How do you find out which one to use? Well…. Context? Oh, and you should know at least 2000 to be somehow able to understand a simple newspaper or life in general. (I’ll probably write more about Kanji some time later just to procrastinate learning them.)

If you like to know more I’d gladly introduce you to Tofugu.com.It’s an absolutely amazing blog about everything that has to do with Japan. (It’s also the only blog I really read… great place to start attempting to write one, right?)


Traffic Sign

So I arrived in this formerly described place the 24th of September early afternoon after having missed my connective flight in Nagoya. Whoever thought it was possible to get through all the legal procedures of entering a country in like 5 minutes. And then there’s queuing and finding your luggage and getting to your gate and stuff. That being said the airport staff was extremely helpful and lovely. And they spoke English. Which is notable.

However I arrived and fortunately the housing agency also employs one lady capable of the English language. But they didn’t have internet. Which left me quite lost without a proper dictionary or map. I managed to find a Konbini – Convenience Store – where I bought a salad, a pre-cooked portion of rice and some disgustingly salty vegetable juice. I also found a phone box which said “International Calls” but it wouldn’t work for me. And neither did the mobile of course.

Therefore I spend the first few days almost crying about not having any connection to the rest of the world (nope, real life doesn’t count since I don’t understand it anyway) and trying to piece together my apartment. It came with a fridge, microwave, washing machine, stove, heater, water heater, desk, chair and a built-in closet and kitchen. Everything else I got mostly from a 100-Yen shop (comparable to a 1 £/€/$ shop) because until about two weeks ago it was the only place I could find for household things. We’ll see how long I’ll be able to use them, the kitchen towel is falling apart already. Finding a drying rack was probably the most difficult because laundry racks here are usually made for hanging them. Most Japanese homes seem to have a balcony with poles so no problem there but except the water pipes maybe there’s no such thing in my apartment. I finally managed to find one ‘though so yay for clean clothes. Well at least kind of because washing machines here use cold water and not much time. Really glad I don’t have small children.


In Oodori park

School started on the 1st of October and I’m in the afternoon class. Still don’t get to sleep very long usually. Until I had internet I would get to school as early as possible to steal their WiFi and find out how to get it in my apartment. Also garbage is to be put out before 8.30am and not the evening before. This leaves me with a morning to be filled with supermarkets, homework, cleaning and other fun things.

School is great. Students come from all over the world and our teachers are really good. And the staff speaks all kinds of languages and is super helpful so as long as there was no internet the number one place to go for anything I didn’t understand. We already had a couple of events: A welcome party for the new students, a trip to an aquarium and a Halloween party. The latter was probably the most fun as some students prepared a kind of real life version of an escape the room game. And of course costumes. I dressed up as The Woman In Black ‘cause why would anyone miss a chance to look like themselves in 100 years and wear goth without being a weirdo?

Except that I haven’t been up to much. Went shopping once and that’s a great thing about Sapporo: You can go to so many places barely ever going outside. The subway stations in the center (Sapporo Eki, Oodori, Susukino, Bus Center Mae and probably a few more) are linked to a crazy maze of underground shopping malls which intersect with 15+ story department stores and canopied shopping streets. I guess it makes sense considering the extreme winter.

ImageImageThese two were tame to a scary extend.

So yeah. Not sure what to write about really, whacha wanna hear? There’s a few things I could think of that might be interesting (food, cooking, candy and did I mention food?) but other than that… ? Please let me know if there’s anything that you’d like to know about. And if you’re just bored and want to forget about my existence, great, more spare time for me.

And sorry for the totally unrelated pictures. Will bring the camera with me more often, promise.