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March 13th, 2012

This morning, when I took my oldest son to school at 5:30am, the sign at the side of the road told me that it was minus 5.  I had been toying with the idea of changing my snow tyres to normal tyres, but I will just wait until the middle of April, just to be sure I don't get caught out by late snow.

The houses here are built so poorly it is impossible to keep them warm. We just heat the room where we spend most of our time, mainly the kitchen, then rush through the other areas of the house, puffing out clouds of white breath as we go. Our heating source is kerosene. The children fight over who gets to sit on the chair closest to the heater.  We also have a kotatsu. This is a wonderful Japanese invention.  It is a low table with a heater underneath which you pile up with large quilts and the whole family sits around with their legs cosy under the table and their faces red-raw and exposed to the elements of the frozen living room.

During the New Year's gift-giving season we never have enough room in the fridge to keep all the goodies we get, but not to worry, we kept a frozen salmon in the hallway for over a week and it stayed perfectly frozen the whole time. With the plum blossoms in bloom now, the tips of tulips peeking out of the frozen earth and somedays venturing over 10 degrees or more, I thought maybe it was the end of the Siberian-style winter we suffer through each year, but no.....

This is country of extremes though...in the summer, when we are busy with the Festival of the Dead (Obon) we are struggling to survive in temperatures of over 35 degrees every day for week. Putting on make-up in the summer is such a fruitless task, with maximum humidity my face is covered in sweat and everything just slides right off. Sweat droplets form on my eyelashes when I am chanting and black mascara stained drops of moisture fall onto my open chant book.

At the height of business at Obon I might be doing 20 or so house visits a day. I chant at each house, and drink a cup of ice cold barley tea then move on to the next place, following the cars of all the other people paying their respects at the houses of people who have died during the year. One year I weighed myself before going out on my visits, then when I came back and I had lost over 1kg of weight in less than 2 hours.  Dehydration, all though I had drunk 12 cups of tea in that time.

As I sit here in my double-layered trouser, fleece jacket and down coat, I can only look forward to the days of summer, when I work at my computer in my underwear.


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