Japan in winter – NO, really, I just have to say it. The heating system, no, I mean, really.
On the web, I read that Japan is the most energy efficient of the industrialized countries. Let’s even admit that they have their industrial emissions under control. For the private sector, they quote that “people only heat one room in winter” as a plus point. But that the Japanese are used to freeze their, ahem, behinds off in winter, surely, can’t be counted as a case of energy efficiency?! Especially since even in new buildings, the concept of insulation has never entered. Apart from the walls being thin, the windows are single pane sliding windows with no further insulation. Coming from a past of paper walls, this might already seem like an improvement beyond measure. But I think otherwise.
Let me explain how it works here. Each room has an air conditioning unit which can also blow hot air. Central heating does not exist. Under the air conditioning, it is warm. Everywhere else, it is cold. Given the price of electric current, clearly, one can only afford to heat the room one is in, while one is in. The absence of insulation makes sure that any accumulated warmth will not remain, once the aircon is off (our flat goes down to 14 to 15 degrees Celsius over night). Hallways and toilets are never heated at all.
This situation has led to a number of grotesque consequences. Small electric radiators are top sellers in winter (it was the second thing we bought for the new flat, right after the futon).
Toilet seats are electrically heated as well. Since the aircon dries out the air, also humidifiers sell great (and this in a country, where most of the year, you have to run the aircon on the “dry” setting to keep the humidity in check). But there is better than that.
They have invented the こたつ (foot warmer), a small table with a heating unit on the underside and a blanket that covers your legs and keeps the heat.
That such a thing could be invented at all, is very telling, I find.
The other thing in this direction I have seen, is the electric carpet. Under the carpet, there is an electrically heated mat. Of course, also the electric blanket exists!