Photographic Interlude

Yes, the rumors are true: most buildings in Japan do not have central heating. No basements, no furnaces, no warm-air registers, no real insulation. . . . The one winter I was halfway warm was when I lived on the north island, Hokkaido, where the structures are built for cold: the windows had double panes of glass, and a truck brought kerosene right to my door. A friend and co-worker of mine once wrote of Niigata: “Here, there are about two sweltering weeks of the year, and the rest of the time it’s freezing. But all the houses are built for those two weeks. . . .” Perish the thought that we should get too hot!

So in an effort to save on heating costs this winter, I invested in a low-end model of Japan’s traditional method of keeping warm: the kotatsu.

The kotatsu is a low table with electric heating coils on its underside. A blanket fits between the heating section and the top desk or board.

Most kotatsus aren’t placed halfway under a conventional desk like mine is in the above photo. I just do that to save space. I moved my computer down from the desk to the kotatsu. I sit on a legless chair called a zaisu. Your legs and feet go under the kotatsu, and the blanket fits around your waist. There’s a dial to adjust the heat up or down.

Here's the view from the other side. Yes, I know the upper and lower blankets' patterns and colors clash something awful. I went with what I had. Yes, that's my Buffy calendar above the zaisu.

Kotatsu. Zaisu. Mouse. Curtains. Buffy calendar.

The problem with the kotatsu is that you're so toasty warm sitting there that you don't want to get up for anything. You plan out all the things you're going to do when you stand up someday.

But this is usually what happens. This is me diligently answering e-mail and writing tons of stories.

Since those pictures were so unflattering, here's a slightly better one from the summer.

Me in the summer of 2009, Niigata.

And here’s a recently-discovered glimpse of the past, courtesy of our friend Chris:

The horror! The horror! This would have been in the late seventies. I hated haircuts; Mom hated hair dangling over my eyes. Our compromise was that she cut off anything that dangled over my eyes. This was the ghastly result. (Why didn't anyone tell me I looked like that? We had plenty of paper bags I might have worn over my head and thus had a social life. . . .)

This was my favorite of my school pictures. I'm about a sophomore or a junior in high school here.

Okay, that’s quite enough of that. I don’t think there’s anything more to be said for right now. I’ll just leave quietly. Back to business next time!



27 Responses to “Photographic Interlude”

  1. John R. Fultz Says:

    Great pics, man! You look like you did a stint on That 70s Show! 🙂

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thanks! But even other people in the seventies didn’t look like that! That wasn’t seventies, it was just, unfortunately, Fred. Eek.

  2. Elizabeth Says:

    Hail to the kotatsu! (Although, my father thinks the more important question is what kind of a laptop you use while using the kotatsu.)

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Heh, heh. It’s an Asus. Is that enough of an answer? I hope he’s not looking for anything more technical than that, because I’d have to start making stuff up, and I think he’d notice.

  3. Chris Says:

    That is quite an interesting insight into life in Japan. I am so used to life at desks in an upright sitting posture, I’m unsure if I could function with my legs on a level with my hips. I would most assuredly wind up as you did in the picture doing your e-mails.

    I detest being too hot, so I might do well in Niigata! I would much rather be cold trying to stay warm than hot trying to stay cool. So ironically I’ve wound up in Southern California where I feel nothing.

    As for the 1970’s picture, indeed that is truly good 70’s hair.

    I also found some scary pictures of my own efforts at hair styles throughout the 70’s and 80’s. My nadir was the perm of 1980-1981. I still have no idea why that seemed like a good idea.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Well, that’s the year everybody was doing perms. I remember going back to school after summer vacation, and about three or four of the male teachers all suddenly had curly perms. It looked like a bunch of dandelions had gone to seed.

      I don’t do very well at sitting with my legs straight out in front of me, either. What I usually do is sit more or less in the seiza position, with my legs folded under me. My feet go to sleep, and I can’t stand up until I get the circulation going again. I can’t imagine that repeating such a process all the time can be good for a person. I wonder if the kotatsu produces physical disabilities over time . . . culminating in the need for amputations. . . .

  4. jhagman Says:

    Fred, You come from Illinois which is a frozen tundra compared to Japan! Those Great Lakes do wonders for the winters in Illinois. Many Chicago refugees live here in my home state of California, their stories of cold and dampness are almost unbelievable. A friend of mine (fron SoCal), told me a tale of being in the Navy at Great Lakes, and going to purchase some David Bowie concert tickets and literally, nearly freezing to death. It sounds to me like an Illinois winter would take that kotatsu, and turn it into an ice sculpture! I’d take Japan over the shugyo training you did in Taylorville.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      What you say is probably true if one simply considers temperatures and wind chill. I know having a house to live in and being able to pay for heating are certainly nothing to be taken for granted — but given those two things — a house with heating — in Illinois, the cold is basically something that’s outdoors. You experience it for 30 seconds as you’re going to and from your car. (Assuming one has a car — which, I know, is another big assumption.)

      In Japan, the cold is your roommate. I’ve been colder in Japan than I’ve ever been anywhere. And the worst is waking up in the pre-dawn darkness when you know your alarm is going to ring in ten minutes. You’re wonderfully warm under your mountain of futon (so many and so heavy you can hardly move), but the air touching the tip of your nose is frigid. You know you’re going to have to take off your pajamas to put on clothes. You know you’re going to have to use water to wash your face and/or take a shower. You hear the wind screaming outside, ice and rain hitting the walls, and you know you have to go out into that blackness — no car, and the precipitation is coming in at you horizontally, so any form of umbrella is a total joke — and somehow, you have to get clear across town to where you work.

      No, weather-wise and lifestyle-wise, I’d take Illinois any day. BUT I’m sure I’d love California’s climate.

      Major aspect of Heaven to look forward to: in Heaven, it will be warm. We can thaw out.

      (How was THAT for a solo whine? Do I win any academy awards?)

      • Chris Says:

        Well, I too am a native Illinoisan AND I now live in SoCal. I can tell you SoCal sort of sucks from the aspect that:

        1. There are often (very often) no clouds in the sky
        2. There are few rainy, cold days
        3. There are lots of black widow spiders everywhere.

        In short: SoCal lacks some very necessary things to make it habitable. It is, however, ridiculously easy to live here in that after a year or two you actually forget that some people sometimes can’t just jump out in the morning into an unheated car and drive to work in short sleeves.

        I love the mountains and the ocean, but the mountains and the ocean really only make it for me when there are occasionally some clouds for counterpoint and some cold dreary days. (Although this week we’ve had a “winter storm” which has been nice).

        THERE! I WIN! I was able to WHINE ABOUT LIVING IN A “PERFECT” CLIMATE! Take that, Durbin!

      • fsdthreshold Says:

        The proverb “There’s no accounting for taste” was obviously written about you, Chris. Why anyone would complain about the lack of rain, cold, and clouds is as inexplicable as higher math. However, point #3 overturns everything — I think it would absolutely freak me out living in a place where black widow spiders might be lurking anywhere. I’d be a nervous wreck. Is that lint on the floor? . . . What just touched the back of my neck? . . . What’s under this couch I’m sitting on? . . . .

  5. I need to chime in Says:

    Thank you Chris! That is a great Fred shot, circe 1976. The class photo from Mr. Jones’ sixth grade class (1977-78) is simply resplendent with fabulous hair, including my own indescribable monstrosity.

    I am struck, Frederic, at how much you (at least in my eyes) favor your father as the years pass.

    I, too, am deskbound for my writing, and I ASSURE everyone I would not last 10 minutes in Fred-pose without being prone and snoring awake the neighbors, especially if it was blessedly cold in the apt. (I never have winter company — only one of my friends can stomach how cool I keep my habitat, which is in the basement of our building).

    Chris may back me up on this: It is hard for me to picture Fred writing at a desk without an enornous black-and-white aerial photo of Lake Taylorville behind him … or pink orchids in front of him! ha ha

    And Fred: Is it not a great shame we never snapped shots of the Flail? Oh the missing wisdom that dooms youth …

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      I agree: there’s no question about my parentage. I don’t think a DNA test will ever be necessary. You know how sometimes you see yourself reflected in a dark surface — like when you’re inside a lighted room at night, it’s dark outside, and you see your reflection in a window — sort of a highlighted outline, with no detail on the features? Sometimes I’ll see myself that way and it will startle me because the image looks so much like my dad.

      Actually, when I smile, and around my forehead, there’s a lot of my mom, too.

      What is it with you guys and your love of the cold? Go to Norway! Be Vikings! I’ll have a tankard of mead with you and then sail way south. . . .

      The Lake Taylorville photo! I remember it, but I’ve forgotten where it was hanging. Was it in my “office”? I don’t remember its being in there, but I know it was somewhere. . . .

      You are so right! I’ve often, often kicked myself for not having taken pictures at our D&D meetings (though that one video is still somewhere in storage) . . . and for not having taken pictures of the interior of the bookstore, front room and back room.

      • I need to chime in Says:

        It was an enormous mural-sized shot that was on the north (I think) wall of the now-sealed Room of Records. In any event, it was behind your chair when you sat facing the driveway. Also hanging there was a photo of the girls volleyball team, mainly because a certain Miss …

        It really is a crime there are no Book Center photos to post for everyone to see! I am sure Shieldmaiden and many others would love to see the famous back room, the heralded “chest containing cold Pepsi” the giant cash register in the basement and, of course, the enormous “portal of death” in the basement (the door, you know …) to say nothing of the “Bob thinks he is the Fonz” graffitti table!

        That said, what we really need is a pic of dear ol’ Hooper, Fig Newton thief extraordinaire …

      • Chris Says:

        BELIEVE ME, I TRIED TO GET POSTDOCS AND JOBS IN NORWAY. No joke. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I taught myself some Norsk in preparation. But to no avail. I got to present at a conference in Trondheim and the framed print they gave all attendees still hangs proudly over my “upright” desk!

        I have an intense love of Iceland as well. Being my first European trip after 5 weeks on the ocean as a research chemist in ’91.

        I would live in either place with great glee.

      • fsdthreshold Says:

        Thanks, “Chime,” for the clarification about the Lake Taylorville photo! So that must have been before Mom thought it would be a good idea to paper the walls in there with all those Currier & Ives prints . . . the lake picture must have hung there in elementary school. Where it went after that is a mystery.

        At least pictures of Hooper DO exist, though I don’t think I have any here in Japan.

        Chris, it looks to me like they’d have so many job openings in Norway that _I_ could get a job as a postdoc research chemist there! The program head must have mistaken all the frozen-solid bodies for actual live, working postdocs.

  6. Catherine Says:

    I spent two years without central heat (in, thank God, a fairly warm climate!). We didn’t have those ingenious desks (more’s the pity), but we had space heaters that generated light along with the heat. Around this time of year I thought it looked like firelight and even used it as a lighting effect in a Christmas concert my sister and I did!

    (And, there’s a simple solution to all haircut problems — just don’t cut your hair! Nyah, nyah, I’m a girl . . . !)

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      It would be cool to be an elf. 🙂 Also male members of elite European vampire families have hair like that. And also members of the wizarding world.

      Sounds like those were electric heaters. I’ve tried using them in this climate, and you can see the glow, but you practically have to touch them to assure yourself they’re not holograms, because you can’t feel an iota of heat.

  7. Jedibabe Says:

    Ok, I officially swear off griping about the miserable winters in eastern Washington! I live in University housing and heat is included in my rent and, though I usually roast indoors through the winter, I am grateful for my heated home and office. (Are businesses heated in Japan?) I enjoy occasional snow camping, but a tent in the snow is temporary and I enjoy it because I know this! It’s especially fun when you are camped beside a back country hot spring pool; the kotatsu sounds like having the warm pool inside the cold tent!

  8. fsdthreshold Says:

    Do you know in Japan the wild monkeys from the mountains sometimes sit in the hot springs?

    Businesses are pretty much like homes (in central Japan, anyway): they make do with space heaters, either on the floor or attached to the wall.

    Actually, our new university classrooms have a form of heating where warm air comes out of wall-mounted heaters. It’s a great new-fangled thing! But I still have to walk uphill through a blizzard to get to school, and uphill through a blizzard to get home! And it’s five miles one way. And I have to do it barefooted. At least, that’s what I’m telling future generations. . . .

  9. Chris Says:

    In response to “Chime’s request here’s a shot of Fred outside the Book Center circa 1979:

    It is a bit hard to see the details. Fred and I have determined that is likely NOT his bike.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thanks for that link, Chris! Believe me, I tried to post that one in the main post along with the “Fred’s Seventies Hair” picture, but WordPress kept telling me that it was in an “unauthorized format.” First time I’ve ever heard that about a photo! I think WordPress is getting in on our whining contest.

  10. Chris Says:

    Black Widows in SoCal:
    Further to the point earlier. Yes, I am usually a nervous wreck during that time of year between March and October. They are everywhere. There’s usually one in the trashcan outside so you have to be careful when you take the trash out. There’s one that always sets up nice and obvious in the outdoor water heater closet, but usually it is so large and prominent you can’t miss it accidentally. Then one likes to set up house in the downspout outside our front door and comes out at night to sit and look ominous. Indeed they are quite “pretty” being a stark shiny black and the red hourglass is quite promient. They hang upside down form the web and so you usually see it quite well.

    Needless to say I usually wear gloves when working on just about anything in the garage.

    And to think I once told Rita that my only real requirement of a place to live was that it have no spiders capable of a necrotizing bite or a venomous bite in general.

    I can send you a picture of some of our various black widows. I have plenty of opportunity to photograph them.

    But I am still more freaked out by the evening hike we took in a nature preserve about a mile from our house. It was late August and that means…yes, you guessed it…TARANTULA BREEDING SEASON! And as we were walking down the trail one was strolling along beside us! Just out in the wild, like it was a real-live regular animal and not some hellish hell-beast!

    I actually had images in my head of it chasing me.

    This song by Brandston pretty much sums up SoCal for me:

  11. jhagman Says:

    Black Widows? They are shy and will (for the most part) leave you alone. Tarantulas are kept as pets here in SoCal, they are harmless, and help control pests. The rattlesnakes are however a real problem out here. In my folks home in Ventura County (where we have weather), I have killed rattlesnakes in the study, living room, garage, deck, etc. No Joke. I hated doing it, (they are God’s creatures and control pests)but with kids, dogs and horses around, you can’t take chances, besides they are good eating, and also not a joke, they make fine tacos.

    • Chris Says:

      Black widows may be shy and leave most people alone but they are most assuredly coming for me. Tarantulas? Yeah I know an adult male human is unlikely to be significantly harmed by a bite from one, but again they are extremely large spiders which means they are inherently evil monsters just waiting around a nuclear explosion to make them large enough to attack my home.

      In the meantime they are like the biker gang waiting down by the corner just hoping to intimidate me with their creepy large size and extremely hair legs.

      Closer to home the black widows are just markin’ time until I accidentally put my hand near one, even innocently, and then they can justify doing whatever evil it is they want to do.

      I will readil grant rattlesnakes are bad and I don’t relish running into one here.

      However the worst part of SoCal is the dread chupacabra. Now there’s a real problem that needs to be dealt with and dealt with quickly! I am hoping Schwarzenneger will enact some sort of legislation. At the very least we need another ballot initiative! This has gone on long enough!

      We were recently at the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles…do you realize how many of our famous celebrities are dead now? How many were killed by tarantulas working in league with chupacabras and black widows? I don’t know the exact number but considering how many celebrities we found there I’m guessing it was A LOT.

      Which makes this a serious issue for ALL Californians!

  12. Jedibabe Says:

    Chris, not to jest at your pain, but I about came unperched at work after your first tarantula post. As a native San Diegan, I have only seen one tarantula in the wild in all my days and maybe 2 or 3 black widows, so I have to assume they are specifically after you! Chupacabras have only recently come to light in my mind, but are terrifying enough to warrant a full fledged conspiracy theory, at least. According to Babylon 5 history, San Diego does eventually get nuked and the possible recombinant spider/chupacabra scenario is sufficiently horrifying to distract my over-worked brain just enough enable me to suffer the blizzard-like conditions of my walk in to work in the 0 degree weather, with wind, imagining this pubescent, eight legged blood sucker chasing after me until he freezes, just as he grasps me in his hairy appendages and opens is giant mandibles to take a big bite of me! (Thanks for brightening a miserably cold walk 😉

    • Chris Says:

      I am thankful I haven’t seen more tarantulas. We live in North County so we were hanging out at Daley Ranch and ran across the little beasty. We were told they were more visible during the evening and morning hours at that time of year.

      As for the black widows, they do seem to be pretty prevalent up here in North County, maybe it’s an “inland” thing. A bit warmer.

      And, of course, they know I’m there and are congregating for the final attack.

  13. I need to chime in Says:

    From mid-afternoon Monday, Dec. 7 thru late day Weds Dec. 9 central Iowa was socked with anywhere from 8-15 inches of powdery snow (you can go on any number of websites for photos or stories … I would suggest or With 40+mph winds and wind chills as low as -30F it has been quite the experience.

    Here in Perry (25 miles NW of Des Moines) we have 10 inches of snow. The issue, as all flatlanders know, is the huge winds, which blow shut interstates, any rural roads and even city streets as soon as they are plowed.

    Everything is just now (at 3 p.m. Thurs) starting to come around again, so I don’t want to hear ANY crap from anyone living in SoCal!!

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