The snow has fallen. Good sign that winter is here.
The Warm Memories
I’m a big fan of winter. Always have been. Probably related to my birthday being in December, and Christmas; a year’s worth of celebration packed into a week. I remember having snowball fights and building snow forts out of the large mound of snow that the snow plows pushed to the bottom of the driveway. When satisfied with our childish combat or architectural wonders, my brother and I would come inside to some hot cocoa and sit down in a warm room with a whole spectrum of illumination from the Christmas tree lights reflecting on the walls.
It doesn’t hurt that I’ve always had a little meat on the bones. While my mother and sister would complain of the cold, I followed my father’s example and walked through the snow in my bare feet to get the mail from the mailbox. Summer was a time of sweat and near-perpetual discomfort. Winter was the time to bask in the perfect coolness.
Many people yearn for the winter when the summer is around, and yearn for the summer when winter arrives. I remain in perpetual love of winter, longing for it even after it’s arrived.
The Mountain Winter
There’s no denying that winter can be rough here. Most people will speak to the (lack of) insulation and the freezing temperatures that persist even inside peoples’ own homes. Others will grumble about needing to switch to winter tires and how the roads are rarely as clean and salted as they could be. Smaller issues, like the closure of roads without notice and the need to budget an extra 15 minutes into the commute can be emotionally taxing in their own ways.
While I laugh when my toilet has a sheet of ice on the top of the water and my shower is frozen and my faucets don’t work, I also take pleasure in the small things: the fact that I can unplug my fridge. The fact that people care less if you’re late. The fact that winter gives a nice white glint to everything.
But I also have never had to deal with the toughness that some people really face in my town. There are old men and women who climb up onto their roofs daily to shovel off the snow. If they don’t, their roof will cave in. There are also people that commute an hour to school, and that means that their commute is now an extra half-hour longer. That’s an extra half hour on the not-great winter roads. Can’t forget about the bus drivers that have to drive in the blizzards and the snow plow drivers that need to be on call at any hour of the day.
I look forward to the skiing. But lots of people don’t ski. I look forward to shoveling the snow. Because it’s a weirdly cathartic experience.
On top of that, I look forward to driving down to my friends who don’t live in the mountains and showing off the snow that sits on the top of my car. Everyone seems to get a kick out of it.
Though my town is beautiful in the summer, the winter brings out its special flavor.
Most of Miyagi gets a pretty basic winter, with occasional flurries and a few big dumps of snow every year. My town gets snow almost daily. In fact, because of the wind and the snow blowing off mountains, there is a sense that it’s always snowing in Shichikashuku.
When people in towns nearby think of my town, they think of it in the winter. Of it’s crazy snowfalls and freezing temperatures. Even if those might not be the most flattering things about a town, it is nice to feel your uniqueness once in a while.
The Subtle Differences
Despite my personal preference for winter, I do sometimes wish for summer when I see the pain and suffering of those around me.
“寒くないの？” the nurse asks me. Sitting in a chair in the teacher’s room, she’s wrapped herself up in a blanket, beginning her winter hibernation.
“いや、別に” I say, pulling my sleeves up. “逆に、ちょっと暑くない？”
She shakes her head, wondering if I’m crazy or just putting on an act. Unfortunately, it’s no act. I do find the staff room a little warm for my tastes.
“１１月なのに” she says, subtly noting the fact that the school’s official attire is now set to winter mode. The teachers should be wearing ties and doubling down on their warm clothing. To see someone roll up their sleeves is, perhaps, disconcerting—an affront on the rigid rules and basic human decency! At least I’m wearing a tie.
In these moments, I wonder if I’m not digging a deeper hole for myself. In some ways, I’m deliberately calling attention to my foreignness. Sure, sometimes Japanese people also don’t follow the rules. But they also follow other unspoken rules. While some kid might start smoking at 15 in front of a convenience store, and speaking a little rudely to the convenience store staff, he’s still reading the same manga and watching the same dramas that will become a part of the cultural narrative of his generation. And, he’ll probably still be in Japan in 30 years.
Regardless, I’m not about to lie, especially over something so trivial as body temperature. Others might say that this is the perfect time to lie. After all, it’s so trivial. You’ll win points by blending in. But, I can also take solace in the fact that my job is as a cultural ambassador of sorts. Therefore, it’s my duty to not blend in. Even if that makes it harder for other foreigners.
Then sometimes, when I’m lucky, being honest helps another Japanese person say what they’d never normally admit.
Or, maybe that’s just some omotenashi at play. I dunno. How many licks does it take to get to the honne of a Japanese person?
The world may never know.