The Cold War

I’ve got news for the Starks…winter isn’t coming to the north…it’s over here in Japan…and us gaijin are fighting the cold war.

I declared that I wouldn’t write about the perils of winter in Japan, but as I sit here at my base camp guarding myself against the cold, I have to get some things off my chest…including this recurring asthma that has been plaguing me.

I was honourably discharged from school early two days running this week. Why? Because I’m sick. Again. Yes, that’s right…despite two days furlough, a week of mask wearing, the torture of seeing a Japanese GP and a chemical assault of meds last month, this gaijin soldier is sick again. How did this happen? How have my defences been weakened? How is it that I am losing the cold war?!

I mean it can’t be for the lack of modern heating solutions in Japan, could it? In a country where technology extends to include heated toilet seats, Japan must have all heating bases covered, right? All civilians must have access to basic, developed world heating solutions such as insulation, double glazing and central heating, yes? Negative. In true Japanese style, they fight the cold war with their own unique artillery of heating weapons…

Gianni Simone referred to Japanese heating as ‘tactical’ in a recent Japan Times article. ‘Tactical’ infers that some considered thought and strategy has been invested into Japanese heating. I find this somewhat misleading and therefore think the term ‘topical heating’ is more pertinent. Just like first aid being administered in the field, you apply heat to whatever part of the body requires it most urgently. Feet? Hands? Legs? Buttocks? Just decide which area of the body you want to arm against the cold and Japan has a method of heating attack designed for that specific purpose.

First, you have the heated rug or kotatsu (essentially a heater, camouflaged as a table with blanket) for application to your lower body. This effectively warms your lower extremities, but leaves your upper body open to the elements…exposed until frostbite takes hold. A slightly flawed method to say the least.

Perhaps the space heater is a better weapon of choice in the cold war? Great for warming your hands and face, as long as you don’t have to carry out any missions requiring you to move more than 30cm away from the source of heat…

I am an ally of the heated toilet seat (some days it’s my only reason for leaving base camp to go to school), however I have to question it’s value as a topical heating method. Considering I have to brave the dash through the sub 10°C hallway and bathroom any time I wish to have feeling restored to my backside for a whole glorious 20 seconds…

I also quite like the the ‘rotisserie chicken’ topical heating approach too. First, do a reconnaissance mission to find a large kerosene heater (most commonly found in school classrooms), then infiltrate the safety line, stand as close as possible to the source of the heat and rotate slowly on the spot. This way all body parts will be heated…just never concurrently.

Oh and of course then there is the hokkairo, the often forgotten hero of the cold war. A little pouch of self warming chemicals, conveniently sized for the average solder to take anywhere…either in a pocket or for sticky application to the skin. Perfect for warming a patch of skin approximately 6cm x 4cm.

If none of these topical heating systems seem efficient, a gaijin soldier can always resort to a hot shower (if the pipes aren’t frozen) or retreat to the confines of their bed with an electric blanket. Both methods are highly effective in achieving full body warmth in the cold war, but these methods are considered extremely hazardous and deployment is not advised. Why? Because once you enter these safe zones, you will never want to return to the battle lines of the cold war outside.

After testing all these tactical and full body heating methods, I’ve learnt that a a combination of these methods on the front line will get you some way to surviving the cold war. This is why I sit here in my fortress on sentry duty…next to my space heater, on heated rug, wrapped in a blanket…

But even if you manage to navigate the minefield of topical heating devices, there is another enemy far more terrifying for the gaijin solder in the cold war…Japanese civilians. I mean, what good is it if I arm myself with scarf, thermals, hokkairos and hoodie, if I am fighting against the psyche of an entire country? These people have centuries of samurai like attitude coursing through their veins and are impervious to the harsh Japanese winters. Hardship is expected and embraced by these people and they are well trained in the art of subjecting gaijin to their age old and unrelenting ways.

How can I possibly defend myself against the ‘gambatte’ ethic of deploying their fellow man to the front even when injured, maimed or potentially dying? How can my body fight against the constant hot/cold/hot/cold topical heating torture that these civilians accept in every day life? How can my defences withstand the illogical habits of a nation unwilling to change?

The answer is I can’t. I am hereby conceding defeat against the cold war in Japan. I’m a casualty of war, beaten down by the savage brutality of the Japanese winter. I used to love winter and the promise of snow, fun and a good book read in the warmth of my base camp. These days as the end of the 3rd month of winter draws near, I am a prisoner, cowering at the thought of the cold war battle I fight daily. 

The only thing left to do is wait for spring to come and break me out of captivity. Despite the Japanese winter being victorious, I will continue fighting to the death with face masks, hand sanitiser, green tea and topical heating until I am rescued from this hell. But there is still the sad reality that even once spring is here, the beauty of the cherry blossoms will not erase the scars from fighting the cold war. The memories will fester deep in the trenches of my mind, waiting to be enlisted again when someone utters those dreaded words come October…winter is coming


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4 thoughts on “The Cold War

  1. Haha!

    And to think that it's been so mild here in Canada this winter. I've barely had to shovel snow and have even lounged around in t-shirts on occasion.

    That said, I also wore my “summer uniform” well into December when I was in Japan. So perhaps us individuals from the frozen tundra are equipped with self homeostasis units in order to better regulate heat during those frosty months.

    Though I do remember how terrible their heating solutions were. Man, I dreaded rolling out of bed in the morning.

    Also, I was always sick – are you sure it's the cold? Kids are pretty germy. Excellent post by the way.

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