Archive for January 8th, 2012

The temperature outside is close to freezing but it is a comfortable 65 degrees indoors. Like almost all houses in the north-east , our house has central heating . In August , when temperatures outside can be a hundred degrees or more, the central air keeps us comfy. Not all dwellings have central air  but most  of those that don’t have room air conditioners.Indeed, most Americans are so accustomed to these luxuries that we take them for granted , sub-consciously assuming that that’s the way things are everywhere.

Not so.

Even in developed countries , central A/C  and central heating are not the norm ; only the upper class or the upper middle are able to afford them . A friend who lives near Tokyo tells me that she has a new appreciation for these luxuries since moving to Japan. She has both these in her apartment but most Japanese dwellings have neither and, to make matters worse ,  the houses are not insulated.As a result it sometimes feels colder inside than it does outside the dwelling. So , how do the Japanese cope ? Well , of course they bundle up inside and outside the house , but they also use heating pads or patches .These single-use patches, which cost about 100 yen ( about $ 1.25) each are applied to one’s clothing and provide heat for a period of 10-12 hours.They can also be used for a few hours then returned to the plastic pouch and re-used , the next day, for the rest of their 12-hour life .

I’d never heard of these patches until yesterday and I was mystified by how they worked . I did some research and found that they are known to the Japanese as Kairo and are available in the U.S . They were invented by the Japanese , are manufactured by several companies among them Hotteeze and Hakugen and have been around for almost a decade . Each heat pad contains iron powder, water, vermiculite , carbon and  salt. When the plastic container is opened and the pad exposed to the air ,the iron oxidizes and creates heat. Pads are usually worn around the midsection though smaller ones can be applied to the feet. ( The Japanese believe that keeping the feet and  area around the solar plexus warm is essential for well-being). The pads are bio-degradable and are thrown away after use. Neat, aren’t they?

Writing about these wintertime happenings reminded me of a week we spent in the little English village of  Tottington, near Manchester,almost thirty-five years ago. It was in late October and it was already cold and damp. The house we were staying in was quaint but it was not very well insulated and , of course, it had no central heating. All the rooms , including the kitchen had doors to keep the cold from spreading and at nights we would feed coins into the gas meter before retreating under our down comforter.The gas heat would warm up the bedroom and the comforter kept us snug and warm . However, the coins we fed in would only keep the gas on for a couple of hours . It was wonderful as long as we were in bed but when we threw off the covers in the morning … boy, did we get a shock !!

Yes, heating pads and down comforters are fine but , thank God for central heating !!

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