The first Tohoku winter. I was not looking forward to the coming of winter here, but it wasn't bad.
I had told myself that I got through four years of Toyama winters, and that preparation was enough to live through a single cold season here in the new town. It mantra worked.
Winter takes some getting used to, but the change is temporary. When I drove in Toyama, I had to get up much earlier to clear the snow off my car, and dig out a path to leave the apartment parking lot every day and night. Japanese housing on the main island lacks central heating, so people close off rooms and use kerosene space heaters are to heat up certain sections of their homes and apartments. I knew many who moved from their main bedroom to the living room to sleep, eat and live every day during winter as it was more cost effective for heating and keeping warm.
The warnings I had received from everyone here in town about my apartment was the same: it's an ice box.
Looking at the structure of it, it's easy to see: It sits above the garage of my landlady's car. There's no shutter for the garage, which means it's open all year, and when the cold air comes into that car space, it keeps the floor of my apartment nice and cold. I had a kerosene heater set up in my bedroom but had the turbo trainer set up in front of the TV in my living room.
My advice for people freezing their asses off in winter Japan: Get a bike and ride it on a turbo trainer. You may fear the treadmill/hamster wheel syndrome of riding in place, but it doesn't take long to build up a sweat and heat yourself and the room up. Follow it up with a quick hot shower, a hot meal and it's bed time without having to burn up the fuel to stay warm. It works quite well and keeps you active while keeping the kotatsu laziness out of your life.
Winter is a nice change though. Life moves a little slower...probably because no one can drive fast, it takes more work to walk through snow, and our bodies aren't warmed up to move as well. Going through photos of summer during winter always makes me realize different things about town that I may have overlooked or forgotten during the bitter cold months. It's hard to stay positive when the gray skies never go away, but we know that eventually the snow will melt and we'll enjoy the coming of spring. If you can overcome the struggles of a Japanese winter, nothing else in life really seems that difficult. It just something that makes us stronger.