click to enlarge
We're going through one of our first cold
snaps and I'm reminded once again of the
pathetic nature of Japanese heating systems.
Our house guests have occasionally been reduced
to wearing their hooded sweat shirts in the
Maybe I'm spoiled because I come from Canada,
a place where we enjoy deliciously low heating
costs. In Canada people heat homes. In Japan
they heat rooms. I don't know how many times
I've begrudgingly left my warm, snugly bedroom
to go and pee in a frigid bathroom, my breath
coming out in little white clouds.
Most people we know have a special kind of
all purpose temperature regulating machine
installed in their homes/apartments. One
part is mounted high up on a wall and is
about a meter long and thirty centimeters
wide. The other half, connected by a tube,
consists of a big metal box that sits outside
the house on the balcony or stoop. In the
summer this device acts as an air conditioner
and in the winter a heater. The only problem
is that it's not really good at heating or
cooling more than one large room, and the
air that it pumps out can be kind of dry
The Japanese have come up with a variety
of other space heating methods. There are
gas and electric heaters in numerous shapes
and sizes. There are electric-powered, oil-filled
radiators (which is what we're using right
now). These produce a nice heat but they're
expensive to buy and operate. Finally, there
is my favourite: the kotatsu. A kotatsu is a heater that is hidden under a low,
Japanese-style table. The idea is that you
and your family sit around the table (on
the floor of course) with blankets on your
laps and soak up the heat.
Well, anyway, our place now is relatively
well heated, unlike our last little shack
of an apartment. At least I don't see my
breath when I go to the bathroom anymore.
click to enlarge
New Year's was fairly low key. Karen, Jack,
Julie and I went to our local Shinto shrine
(which is the traditional thing to do) and
Mark went with his Japanese friend Tetsuya
(aka Tony Hard-core) to an all-night concert
Once again, we played the part of the big
dumb foreigners at the shrine.
We sauntered into the shrine grounds through
the main gate at about 11:40 p.m. There were
a few official-looking people standing around.
They were tending flaming braziers and talking
quietly amongst themselves, but there wasn't
the massive crowd that we expected.
At first we just kind of bumbled around,
I took some pictures and Karen pushed the
stroller. Then, for some mysterious reason,
an old temple official with rosy cheeks came
up to us and said in English, "Hello,
can I help you?"
"No thanks, we're just looking around,"
I replied with confidence.
After we passed him I turned to Julie
said in a voice of knowing explanation,
(i.e., Japanese people) get cocky when
drink and like to show off their English."
Just as I finished that sentence we rounded
the corner of the main shrine building. There,
just outside a secondary gate, standing looking
at us from the street, was a huge line of
people waiting to be let into the shrine
at the stroke of midnight. We had totally
crashed the ritual opening of the shrine
and hadn't realised it!
Let me tell you, it was pretty damn embarrassing.
We quickly skulked out through a tiny side
exit. It was like something in a National
Lampoon 'American Vacation' movie, you know,
the ones with Chevy Chase.
There were probably signs posted on the main
entrance (which fronted a major road) telling
people to go and line up at the secondary
gate, but we couldn't read them. In our defense,
nobody really made any effort to explain
the situation to us... I guess they were
just trying to be nice.
I think next year I'll just stick to good
ol' Canadian New Year's traditions -- i.e.,
force myself to get sickeningly drunk in
a smoky bar filled with strangers while I
scream and hoot in pretend jubilation just
because that's the expected thing to do.
click to enlarge
You may have noticed that there is a new
section on Hunkabutta today: You can now
buy prints. People have been asking for this for quite
a while and I have finally managed to find
the time to put it all together.
It may not look like it, but there are a
lot of pieces that work together throughout
the site to make the shopping functionality
happen. I'm sure that I must have introduced
a few errors into the site along the way,
so as you're clicking around if you should
come across any bugs or unclear instructions
I would appreciate it if you could send me a note about it.
Mark and Julie (our friends visiting from
Canada) are having a great time so far --
they've done a ton of shopping, which is
one thing that Tokyo is certainly good for.
I haven't gotten any good pictures of them
yet because I've been relegated to baby-sitting
duty these past few days. At one-and-a-half,
Jack is starting to become a handful in public
places, and the New Year's crowds make getting
around with the stroller a royal pain in
They've still got several more days with
us so I'm sure that I'll get a chance to
catch up on my photo taking. I'm not sure
what we'll be doing for New Year's Eve, but
you can bet there will be some mighty big
click to enlarge
I was thinking about a funny thing I did
not too long after coming to Japan. I think
that you could certainly classify it as a
I was out running errands near a train station
and decided to stop and have a coffee. I
went into a nearby Doutours, which is a coffee
shop chain. This particular Doutours was
large and sprawling by Japanese standards
and had several disparate sections.
Just like everything else in Tokyo, this
Doutours was packed full of people, and after
I waited in line to buy my coffee I had a
hard time finding a seat. Eventually I spotted
an empty table near a second exit on the
far side of the shop and went over to sit
down. As I put my tray on the table I noticed
that someone had forgotten a shopping bag
full of clothes and a purse on one of the
I sat down and figured that the person would
eventually realize their mistake and return
to the coffee shop for their stuff. I was
right. After about five minutes a middle-aged
woman with a coffee shuffled over to the
table and mumbled a few things I couldn't
understand. For some reason she looked pissed
off and frightened at the same time. I, on
the other hand, was all smiles and nods.
I tried to communicate the fact that I had
kept an eye on her stuff for her, but that
it had been no problem, and that she didn't
have to thank me for it. She took her bags,
gave me a dirty look, and left.
After living in Japan for a bit longer I
started to notice that people were forgetting
their bags at restaurant and coffee shop
tables all the time, and then it finally
dawned on me: They were reserving the table
while they went to wait in line to buy food.
That woman had been pissed off because I
had stolen her table and then smiled in her
It's kind of funny now, but I think most
of you can see how a newcomer could have
made that mistake. I mean, in how many places
in the world, especially in a large city,
can you leave your purse or shopping bags
unattended at a public table and still expect
to find them there again when you return?