by Hank F. Miller Jr.
Winter lies heavy on Japan. Ski slopes, hot sake, common-pot stews, frosty smiles, rosy cheeks and-at least for those in the highlands or up north-buckets of snow. It's one cozy chapter of chipper romance that all Japanese feel for the four seasons. But-and you can ask my wife Keiko, on this - I am not Mr. Romantic. Especially I have but one desire in this season of chilly delights, and it is not to escape to the slopes or to build a snowman or to munch "mikan =Tangerines" under the"kotatsu = a low table where one sits on cushions on the floor with a heated lamp connected to the bottom of the low table with a quilt over the top, that keeps your lower body warm.
It's merely this:
I want winter to go away-now. Some Japanese-enchanted perhaps by the slurp spell of hot "soba noodles" or bewitched by the crystal clarity of the seasonal skies-choose to query me on this.
Did I grow up spoiled on California sunshine? They ask. Or did I spend my younger days wafting around the Everglades, where the winter temperatures are ever - warm But No.
I hail from the East Coast, Southern New Jersey where winter not only has some bite; it can take your breath away. Furthermore, I grew up at a time when the words "global warming" was but distant glints in some industrialist's eye. As a kid, when I went outside, I had a pile on so much clothing that it was physically impossible to bend either of my elbows or knees. If knocked down in such a state, the only way to get up again was to roll south until it was warm enough to wiggle free from several layers of apparel.
While that may be a mild exaggeration, it is a cold fact that when, up on learning my first job in Japan would be on the "southern" island of kyushu,myjoy was so unbridled that I smiled form ear to ear for an entire week, even in my sleep. For I had escaped winter at last!
Of course, as anyone who has lived on Kyushu will attest, I was soon in for an icy surprise. For while Kyushu's winters have little snow, they also have little warmth. What's more, in those days southern Japan had to accept foreign innovations such as centralized heating, insulation or winter jaunts to Hawaii occasionally?
What was supposed to keep you warm was your samurai spirit.
In my case. I traded my samurai spirit for an Eskimo parka.
But even this failed to do the trick. My teeth did not merely chatter, they soliloquized. I shivered my way through to spring.
Though at that time Keiko and I lived in a new apartment in Wakamatsu City, with surrounding mountains and farmland it was a picturesque scenic sight but freezing.
I could feel the winters breeze through the cracks in the3/4" inch plywood walls and with no insulation at all. The windows would rattle due to no packing around them, believe me it was cold.
I do not have to shiver my way through winter any longer; I have since relocated to our new formed concrete home some 22 years ago.
Japanese indoor heating has greatly improved-after that the Japanese discovered that heating systems were marketable.
My wife says she likes winter, but it's nice to crank our heater up and stay cozy till summer comes around again.
We do love our home and it's a really beautiful mountainous area and very scenic. We really enjoy our lives here, raised three beautiful and great children here and look forward to many more wonderful years here together at the Miller home.
Warm Regards from Kitakyushu City, Japan.
Hank, Keiko and Family