Just Around the Corner

William this morning before the dining room
warmed up. It was nippy 3˚, hence the tuque and blanket
Winter is fairly cold here in Fukuyama. Not snowy, -30, 70 km/hr wind kind of cold like in Manitoba, but since our house is drafty and barely insulated you feel the cold all the time. We use a space heater to warm the room we are currently occupying and the rest of the house remains at a brisk 5 - 10˚ C, especially on the floor where the children spend most of their day. This method of heating may be more eco-friendly than the central heating that we are used to back home but it is by no means less expensive. In the winter months here we spend more than twice as much heating one room at a time compared with our whole house in Canada. This is partially due to how expensive electricity is here compared to the hydro electric power that we use in Manitoba but also because there is virtually no insulation in older Japanese houses. The floor has a large open space below it with only wooden flooring separating our freezing toes from the outside. The windows are single pane and there are gaps in some areas where they don't quite fit properly. On windy days you can feel drafts coming in from everywhere, and the walls are thin and barely insulated.

For me, the worst part of winter here is not feeling constantly chilly, but feeling confined to small areas of your house. The children roam, open doors, and inevitably want to play in the room that is not currently being heated. Half of my day is spent saying "shut that door behind you! You're letting cold air!". By the time spring rolls around we all have an intense case of cabin fever from being cooped up in one small room most of the time. I am pretty sure that I will never get used this aspect of winter in Japan.

There are a few things that make winter lovely as well. It rarely snows where we are and usually hovers around 1˚ C or so. This means that we can actually spend time outside every day in the winter, go for bike rides, and enjoy the neighbourhood parks without fear of exposure and frost bite. You can grow hardy vegetables even in the winter and there are plants that even bloom in January. Coming from a place that is dead and sterile for at least 1/3 of the year I still haven't gotten over how amazing this is!

Last year around Christmas I noticed a shrub which I had never encountered before, the wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox),  or ロウバイin Japanese. It quickly has become my favourite flowering shrub and I really looked forward to its blooming this winter. In our area of Japan at least, it blooms throughout January and February and has the most amazing jasmine like smell. The blossoms begin as little yellow balls and open into yellow multi-petaled pendent flowers that last for quite a few weeks. Some trees are so densely covered in them that it looks like there is buttered popcorn popping off of their branches. You can't help but notice their wonderful scent whenever you pass by one and if you are anything like me, you will stop and inhale deeply for a few seconds before moving on.

Sweet osmanthus (Osmanthus fragrans), or キンモクセイ, is another strongly scented flowering shrub that grows here. Its orange flowers usually open in the autumn but unlike the wintersweet, I find its scent cloying, too sweet, mostly abhorrent. I am willing to admit that I am the odd one out on this because most people I have talked to love the smell of sweet osmanthus. Unfortunately, the osmathus all bloomed in Fukuyama right at the peak of my morning sickness this fall and I could barely stand leaving the house for fear of running into its smell. It seemed like everyone in the city had one growing in their garden. Sometimes I could see the orange flowers while I was still out of scent range so I knew to hold my breath but usually they were hidden behind a wall and I couldn't help but get at least one horrible whiff of them. I hope that I don't forever have an association with extreme queasiness and their smell. 

The bane of my morning sickness

These tiny double daffodils are beautiful and
super fragrant. Love them!
Even with the relative mildness of winter weather here, this winter has seemed extremely long to me. I am sure it has something to do with my crappy pregnancy circulation, but I also have a hunch that this winter has been slightly colder than the last. This theory is completely based on which dates I took pictures of flowers I saw beginning to bloom (yay for photos that are accurately dated!). Last winter I took photos of daffodils blooming in early January, but this year I have only noticed them starting to bloom in the past few days. This week I also spied a plum tree down the street whose buds are beginning to open. Winter can't last forever! 

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I have to agree about Japanese housing insulation.. or lack of it! We are slowly double-glazing our windows, but paper doors and lots of gaps mean things aren't as cozy as they should be.
Looking forward to meeting you soon.