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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Staying Warm Or Staying Alive

Who would ever have thought that during the cold months in Japan one could be faced with the dire decision of whether to stay warm or to stay alive? Should one mean the other can't happen?

Only in Japan, baby… and maybe other Asian countries… but this is a blog about Japan, so I at least feel slightly qualified to write about this stuff.

On Monday I listened to the recorded What The Funday, a fantastic show on Japan's premiere rock and roll station Radio Baka that my friend Mike Rogers works at. You can read about his blog Marketing Japan HERE

Within the show, a reporter discussed a recent Japanese survey involving the use of heaters, noting that house fires caused by stoves/heaters increase during the winter months.I would assume that was because that was when they would be used, but what the hell do I know.

Respondents were asked which form of heater was the biggest cause of such house fires:  

  • 80% of survey respondents say that kerosene stoves were the cause;
  • 4% say it was electric stoves topped the list…
That leaves 16% unaccounted on the report… which leads me to wonder if it could be the wonderful kotatsu. That's just a guess... the report did not mention the missing 16 per cent.

According to the Tokyo Metropolitan Fire Department, there is a large number of fires actually caused by electric stoves - but I assume that to mean electric heaters. Still, no number was actually given…

Basically, the survey shows that most people didn't know that electric heaters were pretty dangerous in their own right.

So basically Japan, don't place anything flammable atop an electric heater - even if that item has signage indicating it is inflammable.

Inflammable means the same as flammable. I don't get it either. English - what a language.

Of course… in Japan, 可燃性の or Kanen-sei no is the way to say flammable. It's just that people who have an electric stove heater don't seem to know what the word means.

When I lived in Japan, I was scared spitless with my electric water heater (that I had to turn on to get hot water) - why was there a tube attached to the heater just hanging there leading to the floor behind my washer/dryer? That's it in the photo above.

I even asked my building superintendent - he didn't know, but was reluctant to touch it. It stayed the way it was for my entire three-year stay.

I never touched that tube. Ever. I'm still alive.

As far as actual heat generating heaters go… At one time, I had three options.

I had a kotatsu… an electric table that allows one to slide a quilt in-between the heater and the table top to trap the heat under it where gaijin and nihonjin alike may huddle to keep warm from sometime in November through March - unless you live in one of those tropical temperate zones like Okinawa, in which case watch out for poisonous snakes.

I have no idea if that quilt was flame retardant - I never caught fire - so I assume it was…

I also had a kerosene heater… I was instructed to leave a door open an inch or two… that door was my heavy sliding glass door at the base of my living room - where I spent most of my waking hours either having sex or trying to convince some poor female human waif to have sex - but it led to the north facing balcony… where the cold winds would waft down at about 1,000 kilometers an hour from the snow-capped mountains maybe 15 kilometers in the near distance - so it was a chilly wind.

In fact… simply by having the door open, it actually made the apartment colder than what the kerosene heater could do to heat it up. So… unless I sat on the kerosene heater, there was no way I could keep warm.

The first night I used it - with the warning from my Japanese bosses to keep the door open to allow fresh air in to avoid the kerosene gases emitted from killing me… I slept a chilly night… waking up in the morning to chip ice from the top of my aquarium so that I could feed my goldfish. Really.

That next night… screw the open-door policy… I closed my door… and in an effort to hopefully not die, I closed my bedroom sliding paper doors…

Stupid, in hindsight. I could have and should have died. I did not, because the gods apparently love a fool, but detest an idiot.

I told my bosses what I had done, and they were completely aghast! Their idiotic gaijin no sensei (foreign teacher) was going to commit hara kiri (ritualistic suicide).

I guess they must have liked me… because later that night the bosses came over with the building superintendent to look at one of my walls… left, came back with another worker holding a large wall-mounted air-conditioner/heater that would once it was created, vent to a hole behind the machine.

To everyone else who has ever lived at 307 Zuiko Haitsu after me - you are welcome.

I now had electric power A/C in the summer and a powerful heater in the winter… good enough to heat the whole three-bedroom LDK (living room-dining room-kitchen)… though admittedly, not the far away bathroom. At least the toilet seat was air-padded so it wasn't too much of a shock in the cold. Little shrinkage.

And to get such a gift from my office, I only had to try and accidentally (on-purpose, apparently) try and kill myself.

The system works.

Again… I did not really try to kill myself… I had hoped (successfully) that the paper door to my bedroom would allow the heat to come through but would keep out the bad stuff as I tried to avoid asphyxiation.

As you should all be aware, kerosene heaters consume oxygen as they burn.

If they are operated in a small room or in an inadequately ventilated area, oxygen in the air could be reduced to a dangerous level.

Reduced oxygen supply could lead to incomplete combustion of fuel and the production of carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas which in sufficient concentrations can kill you, which is just like being dead.

I made my choice… not freezing to death versus asphyxiation.

The thing I had hoped was that the kerosene heater was placed in a very large room - which the LDK area was - especially by Japanese standards.

I'm just saying… I got lucky.

Don't be stupid. Either don't use the damn kerosene heater or make sure you have proper ventilation available.

Do as I say, not as I did.

Andrew Joseph

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